Michael de Certeau, The Possession at Loudun

Amazon Link
LibraryThing link

Why did I get this book?

Embarrassment at having not read it while reading a discussion between historians about important scholarship.

Having liked de Certeau’s other writing.

Need to prepare for my spring course next year that’s an oddball approach to building a canon of historical scholarship.

Is it what I thought it was?

Yes. The preface alone is worth the price of admission.

Great, great example of what the “anthropological turn” did for historical scholarship. I wonder in fact if anyone has properly historicized that turn? I can think of a few people who’ve written about it, including David William Cohen, but it seems almost a better or richer way to think about what gets glossed as the “cultural turn”.

What continuing uses might I have for it?

Could make a great book to throw into the mix in an Honors seminar on witchcraft, possession, etc, or to put alongside Africanist books to complicate how students read.

Should include it in Building Canons course.

Preface fits with some of what I’m writing in both Free Agency and Rituals of Sovereignty in terms of a general view of the discipline and methodology.

I would LOVE to teach Ch. 12 in a course on the Archive as idea and practice.


“Normally, strange things circulate discreetly below our streets. But a crisis will suffice for them to rise up, as if swollen by flood waters, pushing aside manhole covers, invading the cellars, then spreading through the towns. It always comes as a surprise when the nocturnal erupts into broad daylight. What it reveals is an underground existence, an inner resistance that has never been broken…Is this the outbreak of something new, or the repetition of a past? The historian never knows which. For mythologies reappear, providing the eruption of strangeness with forms of expression prepared in advance, as it were, for that sudden inundation.” p. 1

Asides, loose thoughts, unfair complaints

I think it’s a good book on historical methodology as well–students at all levels might be able to get a sense of how research informs analysis and vice-versa, though that would take some pedagogical attention to how to read it.