Maleficent Fetishes and the Sensual Order of the Uncanny in South-West Congo

in Social Analysis
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Diversely echoing Gail Weiss (1999) and Paul Stoller and Cheryll Olkes (1987), I hold that maleficent fetishes that sustain lethal sorcery shape and enact, yet pervert, their proper contours of embodied interactions and transactions. These interactions are being absorbed and consumed, if not devoured, by the sensual order of the uncanny and by forces of abjection. From my immersion in the life of the Yaka people in Kinshasa and south-west Congo, I am aiming at some endogenous understanding of how interacting bodies – or more precisely, intercorporeal awareness – can conform to (attune to) and become subordinated to (and implicated by) the frenzy of the transgressive and annihilating ‘forces’ mobilised by maleficent fetishes and lethal sorcerous violence. I contend that the mysterious field of sorcery and maleficent fetishes among the Yaka seems to foster among complicitous pairs some pre-reflective and interpersonal awareness of their body in the fold of (embracing) images, fantasies, experiential gestalts and desire of sorts. This primary entwinement of (inter)corporeal capacities, ‘forces’, cultural expectations and horizons of significance may help us to comprehend innovatively the sensual articulation of a genuine epistemology and a groping for moral economy in the very mood of transgression and perversion. This merging of desire, intercorporeality and sensing out of things paradoxically ties in with the pursuit as well as the obliteration of ethics. Such intermingling shows up in people’s manifold search to tame or, for other purposes, to stir up forms of unsettling, rupture, paradoxes, indeterminacy, categorial and ontological aporias, perversion or even destructive violence.