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  • A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo

    Author(s):
    Pages: 376
    Illustrations: 41 illustrations
    Sales/Territorial Rights: World
  • Cloth: $94.95 - In Stock
    978-0-8223-5946-3
  • Paperback: $26.95 - In Stock
    978-0-8223-5965-4
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  • Abbreviations  ix

    Acknowledgments  xi

    Introduction  1

    1. Registers of Violence  27

    2. Maria N'koi  61

    3. Emergency Time  95

    4. Shock Talk and Flywhisks  135

    5. A Penal Colony, an Infertility Clinic  167

    6. Motion  207

    Conclusion. Field Coda and Other Endings  237

    Notes  255

    Bibliography  309

    Index  343
     
  • Winner, 2016 Martin A. Klein Prize (presented by the American Historical Association)

  • "[N]ot only does Hunt contest the conventional histories of Belgian Congo, but also asks her reader to reconsider how history itself is written and formulated. Thus, scholars who specialize in medical humanities, a discipline which depends upon a multi- and interdisciplinary perspective, will welcome Hunt’s book both for its content and for her approach to her subject."

    "Hunt demonstrates how her use of interdisciplinary methods—archival, oral historical, literary, and ethnographic—and unconventional materials provides provocative insights into the colonial history of the Congo."

    "The book’s synthetic range, historical detail, and conceptual density...make it highly appropriate for graduate work, and essential in equatorial African studies....an exemplary venture in medical anthropology and a truly rich set of resources for those of us engaging such questions in our own thought and research."

    "Hunt provides multiple, nuanced perspectives on life in colonial Congo. This work offers much for scholars who seek to merge phenomenological and political-economic analysis, and who seek to illuminate the textures of everyday life in ways that escape dominant narratives."

    "This is a book that is brimming with tensions: historiographical, epistemological, sensorial, emotional. It is alive with them, both in the material that Nancy Rose Hunt uncovers and in her manner of relaying her subject to the reader."

    "A Nervous State is an extraordinary book. Its empirical richness is obvious—the number and variety of different sources that Hunt has drawn upon, and the attention that she has paid to all these sources. Diaries and colonial archives, Lomongo language pamphlets and school essays, photographs, epic poems and dances—all of them receive the same, patient, highly sympathetic, but also questioning, persistent, and often quietly skeptical, scrutiny. Versions of events are presented, and new vistas open up, yet this is also a judicious book where the conclusions never push beyond what the evidence will support."

    "Hunt’s reading of the colonial state(s) through southern Equateur . . . provides an invaluable lens through which to understand contemporary Congo."

    "Nancy Rose Hunt’s latest book beats, breathes, quivers and unsettles. Her writing brims with the curiosity and rigour that evidently fuels her meticulous tracing of neglected archival materials. Also palpable are the insight and sensitivity that enable her to encapsulate both the changing machinations of a biopolitical state, and the ‘therapeutic insurgencies’ of ordinary Congolese. However, it is Hunt’s attention to sensation and to perception, what one might call her scholarly synaesthesia—her ability to read the archives with an attentive ear, to read ‘dynamics of combat through acoustics of hushed silence and sadistic laughter,' for example—that renders her work so compelling for an anthropologist of Equateur and of the senses."

    "The interpretation in this splendid work is a decisive contribution to understanding the jumble of desires, interests, discourses and images in the colonial and post-colonial history of this country, as well as the psychic life of its history."

    "A Nervous State provides a complex history of Colonial Congo; it is a huge contribution to African Studies and anthropology."

    "A Nervous State is certainly one of the most elegant books I have seen over the last years and an impressive attempt at entangling, and at discussing entangled, narratives. . . . This book is certainly 'a must' for everyone engaging with the history of communities under colonial rule, especially for Central Africa, but also beyond."

    "[A] new, stunning map of Equateur rises from this rich text: a milieu full of shrunken hopes and broken promises, but also pregnant with wondrous possibilities."

    "The interpretation in this splendid work is a decisive contribution to understanding the jumble of desires, interests, discourses and images in the colonial and post-colonial history of this country, as well as the psychic life of its history."

    "A Nervous State is subaltern history that manages to recover the voices of the voiceless.... [Hunt's] emphasis on women’s lives— not only as victims of rape, atrocities, and medical exams, but as healers, insurgents, and subjects of powerful memories—offers an important corrective that reveals the agency and know-how of Congolese.... Hunt shows that the Belgian colonial regime was indeed a medicalized one, nervous in many ways."

    "Hunt provides a bricolage of archives, memories, and traces that is more than the sum of its parts. In so doing, she demonstrates in this deeply researched and assiduously analyzed work that the history of colonial Congo is much more than the haunted legacy of its violent inception."
     

    "A Nervous State contributes novel advances into historiographies of colonial medicine, colonialism, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hunt’s attunement to the harmful aspects of Congolese therapeutics, and the nervous responses of the colonial state, offers a stimulating way to rethink colonial medical histories and move beyond predictable comparisons of the vernacular and biomedical."

    Awards

  • Winner, 2016 Martin A. Klein Prize (presented by the American Historical Association)

  • Reviews

  • "[N]ot only does Hunt contest the conventional histories of Belgian Congo, but also asks her reader to reconsider how history itself is written and formulated. Thus, scholars who specialize in medical humanities, a discipline which depends upon a multi- and interdisciplinary perspective, will welcome Hunt’s book both for its content and for her approach to her subject."

    "Hunt demonstrates how her use of interdisciplinary methods—archival, oral historical, literary, and ethnographic—and unconventional materials provides provocative insights into the colonial history of the Congo."

    "The book’s synthetic range, historical detail, and conceptual density...make it highly appropriate for graduate work, and essential in equatorial African studies....an exemplary venture in medical anthropology and a truly rich set of resources for those of us engaging such questions in our own thought and research."

    "Hunt provides multiple, nuanced perspectives on life in colonial Congo. This work offers much for scholars who seek to merge phenomenological and political-economic analysis, and who seek to illuminate the textures of everyday life in ways that escape dominant narratives."

    "This is a book that is brimming with tensions: historiographical, epistemological, sensorial, emotional. It is alive with them, both in the material that Nancy Rose Hunt uncovers and in her manner of relaying her subject to the reader."

    "A Nervous State is an extraordinary book. Its empirical richness is obvious—the number and variety of different sources that Hunt has drawn upon, and the attention that she has paid to all these sources. Diaries and colonial archives, Lomongo language pamphlets and school essays, photographs, epic poems and dances—all of them receive the same, patient, highly sympathetic, but also questioning, persistent, and often quietly skeptical, scrutiny. Versions of events are presented, and new vistas open up, yet this is also a judicious book where the conclusions never push beyond what the evidence will support."

    "Hunt’s reading of the colonial state(s) through southern Equateur . . . provides an invaluable lens through which to understand contemporary Congo."

    "Nancy Rose Hunt’s latest book beats, breathes, quivers and unsettles. Her writing brims with the curiosity and rigour that evidently fuels her meticulous tracing of neglected archival materials. Also palpable are the insight and sensitivity that enable her to encapsulate both the changing machinations of a biopolitical state, and the ‘therapeutic insurgencies’ of ordinary Congolese. However, it is Hunt’s attention to sensation and to perception, what one might call her scholarly synaesthesia—her ability to read the archives with an attentive ear, to read ‘dynamics of combat through acoustics of hushed silence and sadistic laughter,' for example—that renders her work so compelling for an anthropologist of Equateur and of the senses."

    "The interpretation in this splendid work is a decisive contribution to understanding the jumble of desires, interests, discourses and images in the colonial and post-colonial history of this country, as well as the psychic life of its history."

    "A Nervous State provides a complex history of Colonial Congo; it is a huge contribution to African Studies and anthropology."

    "A Nervous State is certainly one of the most elegant books I have seen over the last years and an impressive attempt at entangling, and at discussing entangled, narratives. . . . This book is certainly 'a must' for everyone engaging with the history of communities under colonial rule, especially for Central Africa, but also beyond."

    "[A] new, stunning map of Equateur rises from this rich text: a milieu full of shrunken hopes and broken promises, but also pregnant with wondrous possibilities."

    "The interpretation in this splendid work is a decisive contribution to understanding the jumble of desires, interests, discourses and images in the colonial and post-colonial history of this country, as well as the psychic life of its history."

    "A Nervous State is subaltern history that manages to recover the voices of the voiceless.... [Hunt's] emphasis on women’s lives— not only as victims of rape, atrocities, and medical exams, but as healers, insurgents, and subjects of powerful memories—offers an important corrective that reveals the agency and know-how of Congolese.... Hunt shows that the Belgian colonial regime was indeed a medicalized one, nervous in many ways."

    "Hunt provides a bricolage of archives, memories, and traces that is more than the sum of its parts. In so doing, she demonstrates in this deeply researched and assiduously analyzed work that the history of colonial Congo is much more than the haunted legacy of its violent inception."
     

    "A Nervous State contributes novel advances into historiographies of colonial medicine, colonialism, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hunt’s attunement to the harmful aspects of Congolese therapeutics, and the nervous responses of the colonial state, offers a stimulating way to rethink colonial medical histories and move beyond predictable comparisons of the vernacular and biomedical."

  • "With stunning insight, Nancy Rose Hunt makes a distinguished contribution to African history that goes a long way toward generating a critical understanding of colonial projects, their alignment with forms of early capitalism, and the brutal practices of extraction industries. By braiding these issues with the emergence of new healing cults, Hunt helps us to better understand the complex social process of colonialism. A Nervous State will greatly impact African studies, colonial history, and the anthropology of medicine and violence."  — Veena Das, coeditor of, The Ground Between: Anthropologists Engage Philosophy

    "In this compelling account, Nancy Rose Hunt draws on an astonishing range of archival sources and her own interviews to move the history of the Belgian Congo beyond the externally driven 'catastrophe' narrative to something far more complex. Violence and death are still at the core here, but so are birth and healing and nervous laughter."  — Megan Vaughan

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  • Description

    In A Nervous State, Nancy Rose Hunt considers the afterlives of violence and harm in King Leopold’s Congo Free State. Discarding catastrophe as narrative form, she instead brings alive a history of colonial nervousness. This mood suffused medical investigations, security operations, and vernacular healing movements. With a heuristic of two colonial states—one "nervous," one biopolitical—the analysis alternates between medical research into birthrates, gonorrhea, and childlessness and the securitization of subaltern "therapeutic insurgencies." By the time of Belgian Congo’s famed postwar developmentalist schemes, a shining infertility clinic stood near a bleak penal colony, both sited where a notorious Leopoldian rubber company once enabled rape and mutilation. Hunt’s history bursts with layers of perceptibility and song, conveying everyday surfaces and daydreams of subalterns and colonials alike. Congolese endured and evaded forced labor and medical and security screening. Quick-witted, they stirred unease through healing, wonder, memory, and dance. This capacious medical history sheds light on Congolese sexual and musical economies, on practices of distraction, urbanity, and hedonism. Drawing on theoretical concepts from Georges Canguilhem, Georges Balandier, and Gaston Bachelard, Hunt provides a bold new framework for teasing out the complexities of colonial history.
     

    About The Author(s)

    Nancy Rose Hunt is Professor of History at the University of Michigan, and the author of the prizewinning A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo, also published by Duke University Press.
     
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