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Ghosts of Futures Past

Ghosts of Futures Past: Spiritualism and the Cultural Politics of Nineteenth-Century America

Molly McGarry
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppqhs
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  • Book Info
    Ghosts of Futures Past
    Book Description:

    Ghosts of Futures Pastguides readers through the uncanny world of nineteenth-century American spiritualism. More than an occult parlor game, this was a new religion, which channeled the voices of the dead, linked present with past, and conjured new worldly and otherworldly futures. Tracing the persistence of magic in an emergent culture of secularism, Molly McGarry brings a once marginalized practice to the center of American cultural history. Spiritualism provided an alchemical combination of science and magic that called into question the very categories of male and female, material and immaterial, self and other, living and dead. Dissolving the boundaries between them opened Spiritualist practitioners to other voices and, in turn, allowed them to imagine new social worlds and forge diverse political affinities.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93406-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Eighteen forty-eight was a talismanic year in which revolution swept the world, reform movements flourished throughout the United States, and New York State in particular seemed scorched by the spirit of radicalism and revival. John Humphrey Noyes moved his experimental community from Putney, Vermont, to Oneida, New York, the center of the “Burned-Over District” and a hotbed of utopianism and religious communitarianism. In July, in nearby Seneca Falls, the first convention for women’s rights met, drafting a “Declaration of Sentiments” proclaiming the “self-evident” truth that “all men and women are created equal.” As the revolutions of 1848 spanned the globe,...

  6. ONE Mourning, Media, and the Cultural Politics of Conjuring the Dead
    (pp. 17-65)

    In the last third of the nineteenth century, as William James and many of his contemporaries mourned the ability of religion and science to function as mutually productive explanatory systems, the movement calling itself Modern American Spiritualism promised “an experimental science,” affording “the only sure foundation for a true philosophy and a pure religion.”¹ At a time when science was meant to have pushed religion to the cultural margins, and when the forces of positivism, realism, and rationality should have washed magic from the world, this practice offered a popular religion buttressed by scientific “evidence” of human immortality.² A half...

  7. TWO Indian Guides: Haunted Subjects and the Politics of Vanishing
    (pp. 66-93)

    In 1853 Charles Partridge, the editor of theSpiritual Telegraph, received news from one of his readers that a spectral Indian had spoken through a thirteen-year-old medium in Lebanon, New Hampshire. This was no nameless ghost. Powhatan, “the once proud chief of a fallen nation[,] now comes to speak to his pale faced sister,” with the message of a beneficent afterlife from a departed “once powerful race.”¹ Echoing the cadences of the many vanished Indians who haunted American literature, Powhatan’s lament was not unique to this particular spirit circle or to American culture. But if the tenor of Spiritualist Indian...

  8. THREE Spectral Sexualities: Free Love, Moral Panic, and the Making of U.S. Obscenity Law
    (pp. 94-120)

    In 1873, Anthony Comstock, a young clerk from New York City, went to Washington, DC, to present Congress with his personal collection of abominations.¹ He brought with him racy playing cards, contraceptive “rubber goods,” and such salacious dime novels asThe Lustful Turk, all acquired from Manhattan booksellers, Bowery newsdealers, and mail-order sellers.² Comstock saw this work as central to his new appointment as special agent for the New York Committee for the Suppression of Vice, a group sponsored by the Young Men’s Christian Association. Relying on the influence of a few well-placed friends, Comstock secured the office of Vice...

  9. FOUR Mediomania: The Spirit of Science in a Culture of Belief and Doubt
    (pp. 121-153)

    One year after the first raps were heard in Hydesville, the spirits requested through the Fox sisters that Rochester’s largest hall be rented for three consecutive nights, specifying that members of the public be charged seventy-five cents each to witness the girls’ mediumship. On November 14, 1849, four hundred people filled Corinthian Hall, gazing at the raised stage framed by the majestic columns that gave the building its name. The well-known abolitionist Amy Post, who had taken the Fox sisters into her home in Rochester, sat nearby to lend both moral support and the respectability conferred by her age and...

  10. FIVE Secular Spirits: A Queer Genealogy of Untimely Sexualities
    (pp. 154-176)

    For nineteenth-century Spiritualists, the experience of seeing ghosts—of being taken up, with, and by another body—became a means of understanding subjectivity both around and away from the séance table. For many, the mediumistic process of channeling differently gendered bodies produced another way of being in the world. Performing or speaking “out of body” segued with material and political reform causes, such as alternative healing and dress reform, to create a religious and social movement based on a reimagining of the corporeal. Spiritualist practice, in the form of trance speaking and mediumship, was understood as the possibility of disembodiment...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 177-230)
  12. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 231-260)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 261-269)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 270-270)