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Realist EcstasyReligion, Race, and Performance in American Literature$
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Lindsay V. Reckson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781479803323

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479803323.001.0001

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The Ghost Dance and Realism’s Techno-Spiritual Frontier

The Ghost Dance and Realism’s Techno-Spiritual Frontier

(p.103) 3 The Ghost Dance and Realism’s Techno-Spiritual Frontier
Realist Ecstasy

Lindsay V. Reckson

NYU Press

This chapter examines the mediated life of the Ghost Dance, a pan-tribal religious movement that emerged in the 1880s in the context of U.S. colonial expansion, genocide, and dispossession. Spectacularly suppressed at the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890, the Ghost Dance proliferated in turn-of-the-century ethnographic realism, a project that included literary, photographic, filmic, and sonic texts. Focusing on efforts to record and reenact the dance, this chapter argues that such reenactments signal the reiterative life of colonial violence in the supposed afterlife of the frontier. Yet they also point to realist media as a temporally and affectively dense terrain of performance. In the aftermath of Wounded Knee, realist ethnography drew its authority from the very visionary practices it aimed to reproduce, insisting on realism’s capacity to adequately record spiritual performance while channeling the power of media to resurrect and reanimate the dead. Such performances signal a tight fit between the cultural logic of Indian vanishing and modernity’s dreams of high-fidelity preservation. At the same time, reenactment’s contingencies of performance and reperformance offer a way to rethink the historical nexus between recording and vanishing.

Keywords:   Ghost Dance, ethnographic realism, colonial expansion, genocide, dispossession, recording, reenactments, ethnography, realist media

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