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Fridays at Noon Lecture Series. Networks of Colonial (Super)nature: Between Rocks and Hard Places in and beyond The Dutch East Indies

Margaret Wiener, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Friday, October 13, 2017
12:00-1:00 PM
Room 110 Weiser Hall Map
In 1831, an assistant resident in colonial Java arrived home to find rocks apparently materializing in mid-air and falling inside his house; all efforts to find their source failed. The phenomenon stopped as mysteriously as it began some nine days later. Through a prominent eyewitness, a high-ranking Dutch military officer, news of the incident spread over time and space, ruining his reputation even as it lent strength to new occultist networks. For occultists, this and similar reports proved that science did not fully comprehend the nature of nature. Skeptics, however, insisted that the explanation lay in interior psychological states (belief, gullibility) or, basing their claims on the developing ontology of stage magic, in extraordinary native skills in sleight of hand. Traveling promiscuously between colony and metropole, and implicating European elites, a third recourse, to corral such incidents within the tidy cultural domain of belief, provoked less enthusiasm, though it occasionally brought Javanese entities into contact with the spirits of European occultism. In speaking of this incident to academics, I have been surprised by a repeated insistence that I take one of these positions, and reveal whether or not I “believe” the incident to be true. This talk interrogates such responses, and the familiar paradigms (belief, sham, the occult) they involve. It also asks why different actors insisted on reviving the memory of this incident at regular intervals, inserting it into new concerns.
Building: Weiser Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: International, Southeast Asia
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Center for Southeast Asian Studies, International Institute, Asian Languages and Cultures