Engendering Emotion and the Environment in Vietnamese Mediumship

Norton, Barley. 2014. Engendering Emotion and the Environment in Vietnamese Mediumship. Vietnam Social Sciences Review, 164(6), pp. 1-16. [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This chapter examines how musical performance is bound up with displays and exchanges of sentiment in Vietnamese spirit possession rituals, known as len dong. I will show how the expression of emotion is culturally mediated through ritual practice and musical performance by exploring the affective modalities of mediumship from new perspectives.(1) I consider the ways in which emotional expressions in ritual practices are inflected by gender relations to the environment and discuss how the exchange of “sentimental relations” (tinh cam) among musicians and between musicians and their “audience” is a highly prized ideal during mediumship rituals.

Deeply felt sentiments are mediated, shared and expressed in mediumship practices in numerous ways. The process of “coming out” as a medium, the special relationships mediums develop with certain spirits, the bodily experience of spirit possession, the enactment of ritual acts, divine utterances, and the music and dance performed during rituals, are all invested with emotional associations and meanings.(2) To explore these affective meanings, I examine the symbolic, bodily and social aspects of ritual experience and performance, and consider the religious framework of mediumship as a complex system of affect.(3) In this system, linkages between emotion, the environment, gender and ethnicity are encoded in the sonic and mythical identities of the spirits. Through expressive musical performance and ritual practice,(3)a range of emotions and particular environments in the natural world are related to the ethnicity and gendered characteristics of incarnated spirits. I begin with a symbolic analysis of the expressive potential of the religious system and then consider how spirit possession embodies emotional differences according to the types of spirits being manifest and the gender identity of the performer. Furthermore, I demonstrate how the call to mediumship for women and men relates to gender identity, emotional temperament and a background of personal crises.The combination of these elements shapes how music is intertwined with the bodily feeling and emotional arousal of possession. Finally, I discuss how the affective dimensions of mediumship music, known as chau van extend through the musicians and listeners to facilitate the development of sentimental relations.

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Date Deposited:

01 Sep 2015 10:16

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 09:59



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