Spirit Possession in French, Haitian, and Vodou Thought

Spirit Possession in French, Haitian, and Vodou Thought : An Intellectual History

3 (1 rating by Goodreads)

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Dispatched from the UK in 1 business day
When will my order arrive?


This book recuperates the important history that Haitian thought around Vodou possession has had in French critical theory. The author takes the period of the 1930s and '40s, as the centerfold of a more complex network of relations that places Haiti as one of the pivots of a more expanded intellectual conversation around "possession," which links anthropology, literature, psychoanalysis, human rights, and visual arts in France, Haiti, and the United States. Benedicty argues that Haiti as the anthropological other serves as a kick-starter to an entire French-based theoretical apparatus (Breton, Leiris, Bataille, de Certeau, Foucault, and Butler), but once up and running, its role as catalyst is forgotten and the multiple iterations of the anthropological other are cast back into the net of Michel-Rolph Trouillot's "Savage slot." The book offers the reader unfamiliar with Haiti a comprehensive interdisciplinary study of twentieth and early twenty-first century Haitian thought, including a detailed timeline of important moments in the intellectual history that connects Haiti to France and the United States. The first part of the book is about global dispossessions in the first decades of the twentieth century; the second part points to how the narratives of 'Haiti' are intimately linked to a Franco-U.S.-American discursive space, constructed over the course of the twentieth century, a discursive order that has conflated the representation of 'Haiti' with an understanding of Vodou primarily as an occult religion, and not as a philosophical system. The third and fourth parts of the book examine how the novels of Rene Depestre, Jean-Claude Fignole, and Kettly Mars have revisited the notion of possession since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorships.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 436 pages
  • 160.02 x 236.22 x 33.02mm | 748.42g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 9 black & white halftones
  • 0739184652
  • 9780739184653

Review quote

[There are] many fascinating moments in Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken's rich book on the question of possession as artistic metaphor, intellectual crossroads, and religious practice... It is constructed perhaps most like a work of literature, its plot sinuous, with meanings accumulated powerfully over the course of a reading. There is a counterpoint between longer chapters, which include detailed close readings of certain texts, and shorter ones with flashes of insight that help to situate and reconfigure what has come before and after. There is a lot to hold together here: varied forms of discursive intervention, a constant return to the question of possession as practice itself within Vodou, different geographical sites and historical moments and basic ways of apprehending and acting within the world. But the book does it marvelously owing both to Benedicty-Kokken's engaging voice and the solid conceptual direction that undergirds the entire work... In a sense her interpretation of Depestre is the crossroads of the book, the insights here made possible precisely because of the rich cartography she offers throughout the rest of the work. Here and throughout the work, she allows us to see and understand an entangled intellectual and aesthetic configuration, one in which Haiti has been and is at the centre, in a new and transformative way. French Studies Spirit Possession in French, Haitian, and Vodou Thought: An Intellectual History is an ambitious and groundbreaking work... An interdisciplinary, provocative, and engaging study of spirit possession, Benedicty-Kokken's book provides a rigorous and important analysis of the heretofore underappreciated role of Haitian Vodou in international thought as well as a strong argument for the potential healing possibilities of possession as 'a practice that should not be pathologized, but held up as a model of dealing with an ever-upsetting and disenfranchised global order'. The intellectual history established here encourages, and no doubt will inspire, further study of possession, especially by Haitian ethnographers and/ or practitioners in Haiti. The breadth and depth of this study make it an essential read for not only Haitian studies and postcolonial scholars, but also for those whose work engages in ethnography, anthropology, philosophy, psychiatry, religious studies, and French studies more generally. Contemporary French Civilization All in all, Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken has produced a most rigorous theoretical text that deeply probes the notions of possession in Atlantic intellectual history. Relying on Western ethnographic accounts of spirit possession and Haitian literary tropes of 'self-possession,' she draws attention to Africans' historical dispossession of rights to land and citizenship (in tandem with the disavowal of their humanity). In doing so, the author proves her salt as a multidisciplinary scholar capable of integrating several fields of inquiry into Haitian cultural thought. Furthermore, the appendix alone serves as a major contribution to Atlantic intellectual histories of the twentieth century. Most poignantly, the introduction and conclusion offer bookends with invocations of two prominent Haitian scholars... Indeed, keeping in line with the Latin root of possession-possidere, with potis meaning able, capable and sedere meaning to sit, to inhabit- Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken's book is one to sit with and inhabit. Journal of Haitian Studies A tour-de-force of interdisciplinary rigor, this book redefines the meaning of postcolonial scholarship, brilliantly crossing historical and archival work with the demands of theoretical speculation. As she takes on the legacy of injustice and evasion at the heart of modernity, Benedicty challenges us to approach the experience of "possession" in vodou as nothing less than a re-imagining of the ethical life. -- Colin Dayan, Author of Haiti, History, and the Gods In this wide-ranging, ambitious, and provocative study, Alessandra Benedicty makes a significant and highly original contribution to new scholarship on Haiti. Entering into dialogue with essential thinkers and engaging with key literary texts, she considers spirit possession within a wider frame of politics, culture, and power. The phenomenon is understood not in terms of pathology and exoticism, but analyzed instead as an active embodiment of thought and as a form of self-narration in a context of persistent disenfranchisement. Spirit Possession in French, Haitian, and Vodou Thought: An Intellectual History is an important book. It deserves to be widely read. -- Charles Forsdick, University of Liverpool In a head-on challenge to disciplinary conventionalism and gate-keeping, Benedicty's account of spirit possession in French and Haitian culture is full of unexpected insights and riveting connections that bring into the same frame colonial histories, ethnographic reports, contemporary critical theory, and postcolonial French and Haitian literatures. A provocative and immensely promising way of constructing intellectual history. -- Sibylle Fischer, New York University Michel Leiris once wrote, "I prefer to be possessed than to study the possessed." Alessandra Benedicty's wide-ranging and erudite study takes the opposite view. A passionate case for rethinking spirit possession as therapy, as a way of processing dispossession in Haiti. -- J. Michael Dash, New York Universityshow more

About Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken

Alessandra Benedicty is assistant professor of Caribbean and postcolonial literatures in French at the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the City College of New York.show more

Table of contents

Table of Contents Preface. Haitian Studies, French Critical Theory, and Postcolonial Theory Acknowledgments Introduction. Possession, Dispossession, and Self-Possession: From Pathology to Healing, Braiding Intellectual Histories Part I. Dispossessions: Nationhood, Citizenship, Personhood, and Poverty Chapter 1. Hegel and Agamben: Materializing Philosophy, Philosophizing the Material Chapter 2. States of Exceptions: Dayan, Trouillot, and Mbembe Chapter 3. The Newest Utopia: 'Ending Poverty' Chapter 4. Mbembe's "Unhappiness" and Trouillot's "Fundamentally New Subjects" Part II. Possession Dispossessed: Pathologizing and a 'Western' Intellectual History of Possession Chapter 5. 'Unhappiness' as Taboo: Anthropology, Psychology, and the Disciplining of 'Possession' Chapter 6: Fostering Revolution? Breton's "Haitian Lectures" Chapter 7: Leiris, "Le grand possede": Ethiopia, Europe, and Haiti Chapter 8: From Haiti to Brazil, From Herskovits to Metraux: Anthropology and Human Rights Chapter 9: Verger's Image in Bataille's Tears of Eros: Hollier's Dispossessed Intellectuals and Vodou Thought Chapter 10: Possession, a Threshold to a Biopolitical Order: De Certeau, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Athena Athanasiou Part III. Repossessing Possession: After Franco-American Ethnography, after Duvalier-Vodou in Depestre's Hadriana dans tous mes reves Chapter 11. Hadriana. The "Autofiction" of the (Anti)Hero of "A New World Mediterranean" Chapter 12. The West's Obsession with Defining Art: Hadriana's Joust with an Aesthetic-Empirical Order of Things Chapter 13. Between Franketienne and Glissant: Hadriana's Realpolitik Part IV. Self-Repossession: The Dispossessed and Their "New Subjectivities"-Jean-Claude Fignole's and Kettly Mars's Novels Chapter 14. On "Un-Becoming" Racial: Jean-Claude Fignole's Aube Tranquille Chapter 15. Repossession as Staying and Dwelling: Kettly Mars's L'Heure Hybride and Aux frontieres de la Soif Appendix A. Timeline combining general contexts for transatlantic and hemispheric Atlantic thought, particularly in France, Haiti, and the U.S.A. Bibliography Index About the authorshow more

Rating details

1 ratings
3 out of 5 stars
5 0% (0)
4 0% (0)
3 100% (1)
2 0% (0)
1 0% (0)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X