Animism and the Spirits of Media - panel, SCMS 2020
Denver, CO, USA (1.-5.4.2020), 15. August 2019.
Call for Panelists, SCMS 2020, Denver, CO, April 1-5
In attempts to theorize the seemingly autonomous agency of media, varied positions, including object-oriented ontology and new materialism, invoke the animistic as a means to rethink the limits and potentialities of the modern. Timothy Morton suggests that his version of object-oriented ontology aims to rethink “what counts as people,” and that “Ancient animisms treat beings as people… Perhaps I’m aiming for an upgraded version of animism.” Donna Haraway suggests, citing a conversation with anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “‘Animism is the only sensible version of materialism’”, the only ontology that permits for the sense-ability of agencies and actors beyond the human. “Premodern” doctrines of vitalism and superstition have become a theoretical means to do away with subject/object binaries, a separation of nature and culture, and other “modern” principles, accounting for impersonal forces and actions beyond the anthropocentrism of Western culture. At its broadest, animism refers to little more than a belief in spirits, including most Western theology. But recent interest in animism is derived from Pagan, indigenous, or Eastern belief systems beyond Western modernity, stemming from their similarity to theoretical claims of vital entanglement, through which animism becomes an onto-ethical imperative. Animism is obliquely positioned as a moral stance that can address environmental crisis and biological collapse. Yet, if these animisms are still about “spirits” in some form or another, then perhaps we should think about them through the ghosts which have long haunted Western modernity: the persistence of images of the deceased captured by media—and particularly the “agentic” spirits that haunt the digital. Or, more broadly, is the animated “matter” that comprise media and machines the point through which all animisms begin, towards which they return?
We seek presentations that engage with questions of animism, broadly defined. This may include, but is not limited to, topics such as: the relationship between media, death, and spirits; the “animated” agencies of media; the use of “premodern” or “pagan” epistemologies and ontologies to theorize media and technology; approaches to vitalism and materialism; ghosts, the occult, and spiritualism; automation and the “uncanny” in digital technology; alternative spiritualities and teleologies of the Anthropocene; etc.
Grant Bollmer is an associate professor at NC State University, who teaches in the Department of Communication and the Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media PhD program. His most recent book is Materialist Media Theory: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2019).
Katherine Guinness is assistant professor and director of Art History in the department of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She is the author of Schizogenesis: The Art of Rosemarie Trockel (Minnesota, 2019).