Watching the dead speak: the role of the audience, imagination, and belief in late-modern spiritualism
Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis
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The performances of everyday experience take place in a variety of other locations, domestic and corporate, urban and rural. Moreover, the role of the audience, and the individuals within it, is not constant across all performances, nor is it fixed within discrete performances: it has an inherent potential for fluidity. This article considers the author's experience of this fluidity as a member of a late-modern audience during two performances of psychic mediumship. It describes them, drawing on narration provided by the author's field notes, and analyses them through theoretical discourses, provided by the discipline of performance studies. It goes on to consider how post-modern, or for the purpose of this paper, late-modern audiences, are connected to their modern antecedents. The term ‘late-modern’ is used as opposed to ‘post-modern’, because the paper sets out to explore contemporary society’s ongoing continuity with its past, rather than its disjuncture. A late-modern focus suggests a society that is a development of what has gone before rather than a reaction against it—as one aspect of post-modern theory might propose. And, with this connection in mind, the paper explores a preoccupation attributed to modern society, an emergent sense of self-identity and self-consciousness that was synchronic with the ‘golden age’ of spiritualism (1880–1914). It considers this modern self-awareness in relationship to an examination of the role of the late-modern audience at contemporary demonstrations of psychic mediumship. It focuses on how the performance conditions of these events stimulate the audience’s imagination and beliefs and consequently affect their sense of self.
Open access journal
Vol. 21, pp. 25 - 43
Place of publication