Since the early 1970s, the author has been working among the poverty-stricken Yaka people in rural southwestern Congo and suburban Kinshasa. A descendant of a colonizing society, the author sought immersion in a particular Congolese community and later in suburban Kinshasa, as well as insights from within the host group's own rationale and perceptions. Through reciprocal fascination and compassionate encounter, hosts and anthropologists transfer onto each other images, longings, and thoughts that in many ways are unconsciously biased. The self-reflective experience of integration in other life-worlds has helped the author to self-critically scrutinize his own native Belgian socio-cultural matrix. The article advocates a type of post-colonial and psychoanalytically inspired anthropology that urges self-critical understanding of definitions of self-creation in relation to alterity constructs. Any further development of psychoanalytically informed anthropology, or of culture-sensitive psychoanalysis, should draw on this understanding of co-implication and intercultural polylogue, thereby allowing these disciplines to transcend their Eurocentric antecedents.
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.
Rohan Bastin, Marit Brendbekken, René Devisch, Allen Feldman, Ørnulf Gulbrandsen, Bruce Kapferer, Michael Lambek, Knut Rio and Kari G. Telle
Notes on contributors