A ghost in a concert hall, tuning every key of a piano to spell messages out to an orchestra:
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The Age of Wild Ghosts provides an ethnography of Yunnan China. It traces the struggles of people in the mountainous terrain after the famine of the Great Leap Forward. Mueggler employs language as his mode of evidence. The language of materials – everyday objects – such as twigs, grasses, string, clothing, and bowls represent the embodiment of ghosts and spirits. Also, verbal poetic language like ritual chants communicates with nonhuman entities. Mueggler utilizes ethnographic research and stories from the residents to narrativize the tension between state and nation. The stories “raise questions about what it means to live as a community in the aftermath of violence.”
The people of Yunnan perform ritual practices to cope with the struggles of famine and state violence. To the residents, the state is “strange, abstract, and uncanny." The state regulates and creates political subjects, but its policies and practices "descend the calamities of mass starvation, suicide, or violent death" (Mueggler, Pg. 6). “The Age of Wild Ghosts” follows The Great Leap Forward. The period began after the famine in 1958-1960 throughout the 1990s. Mueggler describes life in the Age of Wild Ghosts as “eruptions into the present of unreconciled fragments of the past, often personified as ghosts of the people (or spirits) who had met bad ends and who frequently possessed or killed their descendants” (Mueggler, Pg. 3). The Wild Ghosts demand from the living complex rituals and linguistic procedures.
Although the state besets violence to the people of Yunnan, what are the individual needs of people to perform rituals? In Chapter 2, the performance of Li Qunhua’s maeho ritual affords one answer. Rituals befall a healing force in a society afflicted by violence and loss. Rituals corroborate “ethics to deal with the violence of power, especially the state power.” Mueggler explicates another reason behind ritualistic practices. They offer imaginations that mirror the practices of Imperial and Republican bureaucracies. For example, hierarchies of spirit oversee dead, conduct tribunals, collect taxes, and more. Do these imaginative imitations of bureaucracies relate to the edifice of fantasies? How do loss and violence fabricate fantasies?
I am intrigued by the interrelations between body, pain, and bodily representations of ghosts. In Chapter 2, Mueggler pronounces the process of healing. Healing “bring[s] back the body in language to the lived spaces around it.” The metaphorical incantations reconcile pain and affliction. Nuances of resentment saturate the verse of exorcism rituals. For example --
I stab your ghost torso with green bamboo
Bind your ghost neck with a dog-shit vine
Prick your ghost eyes with fir needles
Bind your feet straw rope
Furthermore, I am interested in Luo Lizho’s depiction of pain. His elucidation of pain stretches beyond the body. They state “words followed the pain’s trajectory through ever more specific spaces, from the sky and earth to the family harmed, to the body on the bed, and finally to the center of that body, its bone marrow, and the pupils of its eyes." What is the relation between the body -- one usurped by famine and violence – to desire? Does this associate with Graeber's investigation of desire as a violent force? Moreover, I wonder if this encompasses our psychoanalytic texts such as Freud, Lacan, and object loss. Have there been other texts involved with loss and mourning? Do loss and mourning relate to desire? I believe Chow's Lacanian elucidation of M. Butterfly implicates loss in regards to the loss of a love object. In a book entitled a Prehistory of the Cloud, I read a psychoanalytic interpretation of melancholy.
"Melancholy is a result of loss, whether the actual death of a loved one, or a more metaphorical loss, such as the loss of an ideal. Though related to mourning, melancholy is unlike it in one crucial point: the loss is so painful that the melancholic disavows that loss, internalizing and burying an identification with the lost object within himself or herself. While a rejected lover may mourn the person who has spurned him or her and then move on, an individual who is gripped by melancholy is unaware of the full extent of this loss. Yet inside his or her psyche, analysts Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok explain, the phantom-like "shadow of the [lost] object" endures indefinitely, secretly hoping for its resurrection or reincarnation."
-- Prehistory of the Cloud by Tung Hu Hui
I wonder how ghosts correlate to object loss? What are the desires appended to the imaginations of ghosts? Are the ritualistic practices of the Wild Ghosts a fantasy? Can concepts we’ve read in psychoanalysis clarify the practice of rituals in the Age of Wild Ghosts?