Clause 12 of the production contract for Anthony Davis’s 1986 opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, reads: “The word ‘jazz’ should not be used in any connection with this piece, including Anthony Davis’s biography.” Although vehemently opposing the classification of his work as jazz, Davis simultaneously sought to position the “jazz tradition” as the central impetus for the creation of that perennially elusive form: “American opera.” To comprehend this apparent contradiction, this talk traces intersections between jazz and opera through three case studies. >>
Thursday Lecture Series are open to Columbia faculty, students, and guests. Special Events are open to the public, unless otherwise noted.
“Why do you shrink and speak so faintly? Are you superstitious?”
“I am constitutionally nervous. I dislike the discussion of such subjects. I dislike it the more because--”
You believe?” --Charlotte Brontë, Villette
Throughout history, conceptions of the supernatural have permeated art, science, culture, and politics, from the divine right of kings to the practice of illusionists, from transubstantiation to witchcraft, and from the power of political myth to the technological sublime. Conceptions of the supernatural make sense of seemingly irrational forms of knowing the world and experiencing it. They manifest in material ways in the form of religious and mystical experiences, in the “placebo” effect in medicine, in eerie sounds and optical illusions, and in debates about “post-truth” and “alternative” realities.
This lecture series explores the interdisciplinary facets of the supernatural from the symbolic to the spiritual, from the metaphorical to the political: What counts as supernatural in a religious, artistic, scientific or political context? What are the processes and structures around belief in the supernatural and what are the debates around supernatural tenets in traditional or occult religions? What aesthetic or scientific technologies--from gothic narratives to spirit photography--engender illusion and a belief in magic? How and why does the supernatural become productive, political, visible, and experiential--and how does it disappear? How do we understand efforts to obstruct, confront, or even dismantle the supernatural? And what role does the supernatural play in the formation of state-sanctioned ideologies and charismatic personalities? How might conceptions of the supernatural reshape our visions of new secular futures?
Early modern European visitors tended to perceive equatorial Africa as a landscape haunted by the threat of poisoning, strange fevers, demonic possession, and madness. But the flip side to this conception of a poisoned landscape was that Europeans regarded African medical practitioners as both skilled and dangerous competitors to their own physicians. This was a dynamic that passed across the Atlantic largely intact, leading to several well-studied instances of enslaved healers accused of poisoning or, conversely, lauded for their skill in formulating novel antidotes. Yet the African context has received much less attention, potentially in the Portuguese sphere. In religiously and culturally hybrid zones like coastal West Central Africa, feiticeiros (as the Portuguese called them) or “fetisheers” (as the English did) bridged the gap between spiritual and medical practice – a gap that, at any rate, was quite ambiguous even in a domestic European setting, and doubly so in the supposedly preternatural environs of the tropics. >>
Religiously motivated travel is well documented for Christian Rome: late antiquity and the early middle Ages witnessed the institutionalization of a pilgrimage economy of which Rome—with its many churches—was a primary node. That Christian pilgrimage made use of (in some cases directly mapped upon) pre-Christian itineraries and networks of travel is no longer seriously disputed. What may come as more of a surprise is the claim that Rome was a hub for pilgrimage well before the advent of Christianity. >>
This talk will look at the emergence of American science fiction out of what began as a mail-order electrical parts catalogue. >>
In his famous essay De la musique en général (1837), Hector Berlioz asserts that certain kinds of music induce “a strange agitation in my blood circulation: my arteries beat violently… a trembling overtakes my limbs and a numbness my hands and feet, while the nerves of sight and hearing are partially paralyzed.” Examining the system of neurophysiological affect emerging from his critical writing, Raz will focus on the composer’s documented engagement with contemporaneous neurophysiology, and in particular the pioneering ideas of Marie-François-Xavier Bichat. >>
Rebecca J H Woods, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, gives a talk on "Lively Technologies and Suspended Animation." >>
This lecture offers a look at the early history of things “made in China.” In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, artisans in Canton (then China’s sole port of foreign trade) became specialists in producing Western artifacts for export. Their copies, of everything from silver spoons to oil paintings, ranged from legally troubling counterfeits to creative variations injected with the flair of exoticism. >>
This presentation, Against the Importation of "Hordes of Coolies": Alien Contract Labor Law in American Immigration History, explores the significance of contract labor in American immigration history. >>
Joshua Dubler is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester and served as a post-doctoral fellow with the Society of Fellows in the Humanities from 2008-2011. He will deliver a Society of Felows Alumni Thursday Lecture on the topic of prison reform and teaching in Grateford Prison in Pennsylvania. His experience in the prison served as the focus of his dissertation. >>