Body and Soul: A Sympathetic History of American by Robert S. Cox

By Robert S. Cox

A made from the "spiritual hothouse" of the second one nice Awakening, Spiritualism grew to become the quickest becoming faith within the state throughout the 1850s, and one of many relevant responses to the frequent notion that American society used to be descending into atomistic particularity.

InBody and Soul, Robert Cox exhibits how Spiritualism sought to remodel sympathy into social perform, arguing that every person, dwelling and lifeless, was once poised inside a nexus of impact, and during the energetic propagation of those sympathetic bonds, a brand new and coherent society could emerge. Phenomena comparable to spontaneous somnambulism and sympathetic communion with the dead―whether via séance or "spirit photography"―were methods of transcending the obstacles dissecting the yank physique politic, together with the last word barrier, loss of life. Drawing both upon social, occult, and physiological registers, Spiritualism created a distinct "social body structure" within which brain used to be built-in into physique and physique into society, prime Spiritualists into earthly social reforms, equivalent to women’s rights and anti-slavery.

From the start, even though, Spiritualist political and social expression was once way more diversified than has formerly been famous, encompassing exact proslavery and antiegalitarian traces, and within the wake of racial and political changes following the Civil warfare, the circulation started to fracture. Cox lines the eventual dissolution of Spiritualism in the course of the contradictions of its quite a few neighborhood and racial factions and during their more and more circumscribed responses to a altering international. after all, he concludes, the historical past of Spiritualism used to be written within the limits of sympathy, and never its unlimited potential.

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Rejecting the soulless automaton, the somnambular body was animated by mind, porous, fluid, and partible, interconnected within itself and with others, and liberated of spatial and temporal restrictions. As sensate beings mutualistically engaged with the universe, somnambulists were primed to supervene the barriers of human limitation. Defying the affective inaccessibility at the core of Adam Smith’s theory of sympathy, the practice of the somnambular body offered an avenue for the creation of a sympathetic society.

8 But sympathies shaded as well through Hermetic and other occult traditions that flourished into the nineteenth century, influencing religious sects from the Shakers through Swedenborgians, Mormons, and all varieties of perfectionists. Like the divine spirit, occult sympathies permeated the universe, revealing the cause of astrological relations between planetary and human bodies, elucidating the alchemical transformation of elements, and the mystic relations of bodies and souls. Hermeticists managed or manipulated sympathy for its transformative potential, and occult physicians used their arcane knowledge of it to heal, but in either case occult perspectives were more than the vestiges of older beliefs; they were instead a dynamic mix of the newer sciences imported within a framework that held materialist explanation as insufficient to account for the range of natural and mental phenomena.

Disrupting the flow of bodily and social sympathy fundamentally altered the basis of gendered identity. As Caldwell concluded, “The sympathies that originate in the genital organs of both sexes . . 28 Taking the argument further still, such sympathies stretched beyond the confines of the individual body. 29 As bodies and identities were united through the diverse discourses of sympathy, somnambulism became the centerpiece in an extended conversation over the issues of automatism and mechanism, will and habit, mind and desire, and a key means of assessing the limits of sympathetic action.

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