Twilight states: Comparing case studies of hysteria and spirit possession

Christopher Santiago


This article compares two case studies: that of Anna O., whose hysteria helped found psychoanalysis, with that of possessed Wolof priestess Khady Fall. Questioning the psychic separation of the modern subject, I contend that cultures with a spirit idiom are potentially more sensitive to complexities of interpersonal relationships. In both cases, the paternal influence wreaks havoc, but where ritual, myth, and magic empower Khady to become a healer herself, Anna O. is not so lucky. The poverty of the scientific viewpoint is overrun by a phantasmic excess that it fails to explain, unable to admit that the analyst too is implicated in this numinous morass of unacted desires. The internalization of spirit worlds into the subject, and their consequent reduction and confinement to the category of “hallucination,” blinds us to the affective intensities of interpersonal phantasy upon whose exclusion our sense of reality is founded.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/715812