Annotated Bibliography: Approaches to Trance and Altered Consciousness

By: Kate Eickmeyer

The following are some articles I looked at over the weekend while considering whether to develop one of my old papers into an abstract for the upcoming GC ESA conference on trance. These sources vary in topic as a result of considering a few different papers; they are loosely connected in terms of trance, altered consciousness, and the spiritual/”oceanic” vs. the psychoanalytic/rational as states of trance. I’ve essentially treated this as a list for my own reference for future projects, so apologies for some utilitarian shorthand and the wide scope.

Bloom, Harold, Ed. Romanticism and Consciousness: Essays in Criticism. New York: Norton, 1970. Perhaps a bit of an old saw, but always good to revisit, this text is a classic collection of essays on consciousness amongst the romantics and has insights into any angle on the subject. Geoffrey Hartman’s essay, “Romanticism and ‘Anti-Self-Consciousness,’” is an especially useful discussion of subjective states of consciousness and their alteration in the context of the sublime. Hartman’s essay and others in the book are relevant to development of an existing paper on trance states in Wordsworth’s The Prelude (one of the candidates for an abstract).

Deleuze, Gilles. “Bartleby, Or, The Formula.” Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1997. 68-90. This is Gilles Deleuze’s evidently famous essay on “Bartleby,” although I overlooked it when I wrote a seminar paper on Sartre and corporate professional culture with reference to “Bartleby” several years ago. Deleuze’s reading of Bartleby’s apparent madness as a haze of private, individual logic (or, I would say, trance) and his characterization of Bartleby and Ahab as beings of “Primary Nature” are interesting, although I question some of his conclusions. Clearly worth another look.

Epstein, Mark. “On the Seashore of Endless Worlds: Transitional Experience and the Sense of Identity.” The Middle Way 88.1 (2013) 7-23. Epstein is a psychotherapist and something of a popular writer on Buddhism. I’ve come across some interesting contemporary articles on Buddhism and this one deals directly with Freud’s “oceanic,” so it brings perspective to bear on a paper I wrote on Freud’s “oceanic feeling” and the altered states of consciousness produced by the liminal moments of death and dying in King Lear and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Epstein offers a lucid comparison of Freudian and Buddhist conceptions of the ego and states of consciousness and then turns his discussion to British psychotherapist D.W. Winnicott’s work on object relations. While perhaps not the most traditional academic work, Epstein’s piece is full of interesting ideas about liminal states of consciousness (a.k.a. trance) and ways to approach Freud and Buddhism in a critical way. The article also might be food for thought concerning a paper I’m incubating on the intersections of Buddhism and Romance in Enlightenment utopian fiction.

Harper, Margaret Mills. “Nemo: George Yeats and her Automatic Script.” New Literary History 33.2 (2002): 291-314. Having done work on the concept of “irreducibility” in Yeats, no exploration of literature and trance would be complete without some attention to George and W.B. Yeats and automatic writing. While Harper’s article alone doesn’t resolve the question of whether the scholarly earth has been scorched already on this subject, it does contain some good analysis of George’s experiments with automatic writing and the requisite state of altered consciousness. Harper’s article also includes some interesting coverage of George’s relationship to W.B. and the Order of the Golden Dawn.

Obeyeskere, Gananath. The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience. New York: Columbia UP, 2012. Vast and fascinating survey of eastern and western approaches to consciousness with many insights into trance, including dreaming, visions, memory, and liminality associated with death and dying. Obeyeskere’s breadth is wide enough to cover a lot of bases, including all of those relevant to my projects: Yeats and Madame Blavatsky, Blake and the Romantic Poets, Freud, Jung, Nietzche and post-Enlightenment European interpretations of Buddhism. All the classic trance-related phenomenology under the sun, or so it seems.

Sapienza, Claudio. “Il sentimento oceanico e il Sé Cosmico nella creazione artistica contemporanea.” PsicoArt: Rivista on line di Arte e Psicologia 3.3 (2013): 1-25. Sapienza’s article discusses Freud’s “oceanic feeling” in the context of contemporary art. Invoking Schiller and a number of other metaphysical thinkers, Sapienza investigates the direct engagement of nature to produce an aesthetic of the “oceanic” in the works of Graham Metson, Ana Mendieta, Giuseppe Penone and James Turrell, among others. Sapienza covers traditional works concerning nature and the universal in the gallery context as well as earthworks and land art such as Stonehenge, Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. The aesthetics of the “oceanic feeling” is another interesting angle on trance, and this article will also be useful for another nascent project on place-based art forms.

Simmons, Janette. “The Oceanic Feeling and a Sea Change: Historical Challenges to Reductionist Attitudes to Religion and Spirit From Within Psychoanalysis.” Psychoanalytic Psychology 23.1 (2006): 128-142. Simmons discusses Freud’s “oceanic” and everything the title so thoroughly describes. Her views on the historical relationship between spirituality and psychoanalysis also have implications for affect theory and audience reception to the legacies of the romantics and the enlightenment. Again, we have the intersection of subjective, first-person experience of consciousness, psychoanalysis, and spiritualism.

Smith, Dominic. “Beyond Bartleby and Bad Fatih: Thinking Critically with Sartre and Deleuze.” Deleuze Studies 7.1 (2013) 83-105. Smith provides an excellent history of the critical disputes over “Bartleby” and brings Deleuze’s article into conversation with Sartre’s ideas of bad faith and good faith from Being and Nothingness. Smith posits Bartleby’s behavior as bad faith and then suggests moving past that idea into Deleuze’s emphasis on the political implications of Bartleby’s actions. I have a number of concerns about Smith’s readings of both Sartre and Deleuze and would take a different approach to the subject, but this article makes for a good and recent reference point for the state of scholarship on “Bartleby.” Without getting into too much detail, I’d argue that Bartleby is in good faith (and awake), and the narrator is in bad faith (and in a trance), to again put it in terms of the ESA conference.

Vasquez Rocca, Adolfo. “Sartre: Teoría fenomenológica de las emociones. Existencialismo y conciencia posicional del mundo Nómadas.” Revista Crítica de Ciencias Sociales y Jurídicas 36.4 (2013). Vasquez Rocca’s article about phenomenology, emotions, existentialism and the world’s postcolonial consciousness suggests political angles on altered consciousness.

Vidler, Anthony. “Bodies in space/subjects in the city: psychopathologies of modern urbanism.” Differences: A Jounal of Feminist Cultural Studies 5.3 (Fall 1993): 31. Vidler gives us another approach to Freud in terms of modern spaces, and a discussion linking the “oceanic” and existentialism in terms of the subject’s engagement with urban environments. Virginia Woolf is Vidler’s main literary reference point and his slant is feminist; trance states in Woolf’s work are indeed interesting.