The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny (University of Michigan Press)
Susan Lepselter Awarded the 2017 Bateson Prize
by Karen Strassler
The Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) is proud to award the ninth annual Gregory Bateson Prize to Susan Lepselter for her book The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny (University of Michigan Press).In this exquisitely crafted ethnography, Susan Lepselter explores how the uncanny saturates the everyday among believers in UFOs in the American West. Rather than objects of elite disdain or sideshow curiosities, Lepselter’s interlocutors emerge as poets and theorists whose reflections on odd coincidences and eerie happenings offer a “strange mirror” on the experiences of late empire and late capitalism. Lepselter’s subjects rely on elaborate conspiracy theories and casual hunches to inhabit a landscape haunted by violent colonial conquest and the presence of a vast, “secret” military base. Deeply invested in an American mythology of freedom, they palpate the edges of the felt, the seen, and the known as they go about their daily lives convinced of the presence of pervasive but out-of-sight, alien powers—technology, the market, the state, the extraterrestrial.In writing that hews closely to the forms of her subjects’ language and thought, Lepselter evokes the affectively charged sediment of stories and memories whose persuasiveness rests not on logical coherence but on a set of potent resonances across seemingly disparate domains of experience and action. Enfolding her readers in a dense tissue of narrative fragments, she conjures a structure of feeling in which people experience a sense of confinement and a longing for release. Class, gender, race, and regional history indelibly inflect this structure of feeling. Yet in treating stories as mutating communal property that is continuously claimed and repurposed through creative acts of telling, Lepselter refuses to pin narratives reductively to singular subject positions or fixed social locations that would definitively author or explain them. Deeply informed by a wide range of thinkers from Jakobson to Freud and Foucault, Lepselter never merely applies theory but rather allows her ethnographic material to bend and rework it in unsettling ways. Both in form and in content, The Resonance of Unseen Things challenges ethnographic conventions, inviting us to examine our expectations of the genre and to explore modes of writing intimately attuned to the subjects we engage. Thanks to the support of libraries participating in the Knowledge Unlatched initiative, an open-access digital edition of the book is also freely available to read. Exemplifying ethnography’s potential to illuminate the political through immersion in the mundane and the apparently marginal, The Resonance of Unseen Things casts a startlingly penetrating light on our current moment.
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The Gregory Bateson Book Prize is awarded by the Society for Cultural Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropological Association. Named after distinguished anthropologist, semiotician, cyberneticist, and photographer Gregory Bateson, the award reflects the SCA’s mandate to promote theoretically rich, ethnographically grounded research that engages the most current thinking across the arts and sciences. Welcoming a wide range of styles and argument, the Gregory Bateson Prize looks to single out work that is interdisciplinary, experimental, and innovative. In selecting the winners for this year’s prize, the jury, which consisted of Karen Strassler (Queens College, City University of New York; 2017 Bateson Prize Chair), Amira Mittermaier (University of Toronto), Lucas Bessire (University of Oklahoma), and Paul Eiss (Carnegie Mellon University), considered over one hundred books from more than thirty presses.
The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny (University of Michigan Press – temporarily unavailable)
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- Winner of the ninth annual Gregory Bateson Prize to Susan Lepselter for her book The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny (University of Michigan Press)
- Anthropological Perspectives of the Transformative UFO Scene by Susan Lepselter – ELFIS Issue 2, Fall ’94
- E.T. culture: anthropology in outerspaces edited by Debbora Battaglia
- The Flight of the Ordinary: Narrative, Poetics, Power and UFOs in the American Uncanny – 2005 PhD, Susan Lepselter, (University of Texas PDF) – Austin [Dissertation] (Scribd)
- Lepselter, Susan (Anomaly Archives)