In this moving and innovative book, Tobin Siebers combines literary and anthropological perspectives to posit a general theory of superstition.
Superstition for Siebers does not describe inconsequential beliefs (astrology) or the manipulation of objects (broken mirrors) but violent and exclusionary behavior derived from excessive ideas about human difference. Siebers traces how the evil-eye superstition - the belief that someone might harm another with a glance offers a paradigm for the exclusionary behavior created by the logic of superstition. He uses this paradigm to expose the role of superstitious thinking in unexpected areas of modern life. A particularly shocking presence of superstition, he claims, is found in the supposedly scientific notion of narcissism - a modern, psychological concept with roots in Western classical mythology that contends that some human beings possess psychic energies and a capacity for autonomy beyond what is normal.
Siebers uses literary texts to enrich anthropological, sociological, and psychological theories. His radical interpretations cast new light on the history of narcissism, the mythic undercurrents of the social sciences, Freud's theories of uncanniness and group psychology, and the role played by ethnocentrism and marginality in contemporary definitions of ethnographic fieldwork.
For the CYBEREDITIONS edition of The Mirror of Medusa, Siebers has written a new introduction that takes up the problems left unresolved by the embrace of local knowledge in recent cultural theory. He also addresses the interconnections between literary and ethnographic methodology and how disability studies contributes to our understanding of how human difference and defect influence the projection of power within social bodies.
The Mirror of Medusa cannot be ignored. It is indispensable: any study of superstition will have to take account of this book. - Modern Language Notes
In a relatively short time, Tobin Siebers has established himself as a major participant in the interdisciplinary conversation about literature, ethics, and politics. . . . His wide range is impressive. - Patricia Howell Michaelson
Tobin Siebers is Director of Comparative Literature and professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. He has been selected for fellowships by the Michigan Society of Fellows, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Institute for the Humanities. In 1999 he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for My Withered Limb, an account of growing up with polio. Siebers principal contributions to literary and cultural criticism have been in ethics, and his other research interests include: disability studies, aesthetics and politics of identity, literary criticism of the cold-war era, literature and anthropology, and creative nonfiction. His major publications include seven books, among them The Ethics of Criticism, (1988) Morals and Stories, (1992) and The Subject and Other Subjects: on ethical, aesthetic and political identity (1998). He is also the editor of Religion and the Authority of the Past, Heterotopia: postmodern utopia and the body politic, and The Body Aesthetic: from fine art to body modification. His most recent work, on the personal world of men, is Among Men (1999).
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