Accepted Paper:

Becoming porous: the orchestration of subjectivity in Urarina shamanic song  


Harry Walker (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

This paper offers an analysis of the interactions between shamans and spirits established in improvised ritual songs performed by the Amazonian Urarina. The apparently dialogical and intersubjective character of the songs is interpreted in terms of ontological resonance.

Paper long abstract:

This paper offers an analysis of a genre of improvised ritual songs performed by the Urarina of Peruvian Amazonia, known as coaairi baauno. Comprising a densely textured mosaic of visual imagery together with formulaic expressions that emphasise the displacement of intentionality from the site of utterance, these are performed during shamanic ceremonies for a variety of aims, ranging from healing the ill, to replenishing the supply of game animals in the forest, to postponing the imminent apocalypse. Particular attention is paid to the complex interactions established and expressed in the songs between the shaman and the spirit 'Mother' or 'Owner' of the psychotropic plant he has recently consumed. Although the songs appear dialogical in nature, alternately enunciated from these two distinct perspectives - one human, the other non-human - I argue that this does not necessarily amount to an oscillation of subject positions, as some have suggested. Drawing on Peter Sloterdijk's phenomenology of co-presence, I propose that intimate but asymmetrical relationships such as these are better characterised as a form of ontological resonance, which facilitates the establishment of a higher or more 'dual' form of subjectivity than that pertaining to everyday experience. The argument finds corroboration from other domains of Urarina praxis, ranging from pet-keeping to infant care.

Panel W049
Sonic beings? The ontologies of musical agency