The Writer as Shaman

  • Michael E. Holstein
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 17)


Sometimes it is useful to remind ourselves of some simple facts of literary art, the “minimals” of literary experience. What needs to be established is that a writer writes to be read; that he writes to be read by individuals — “You! Reader!” rather than “the Public”; and that he writes most seriously when he effects changes in consciousness and even behavior. A critic has said that one never goes away unchanged from a reading of Wuthering Heights, and for how many other books could that be said.1 “Didactic” is certainly too weak and limited a term for what is involved, signifying as it does the mere transmission of information from dogmatic Mouth to indifferent Ear. We require something more like “psychokenesis” to describe the active agency of a book that redirects consciousness and metamorphoses being. The presumption of such an active agency has always been there for devotional or satiric literature, the one urging a dynamic orthodoxy, the other inciting a necessary iconoclasm.2 But the question remains for less horatory modes, does an author still have designs on us. What are they? Where did they originate? What is their nature?


Literary Work Literary Tradition Evil Spirit Fictive World Spirit Possession 
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    My description of the shaman is drawn from the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons), ‘Shamanism’; Studies in Siberian Shamanism, ed. Henry N. Michael (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963); and Mirceau Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972). For discussions of shamanism and poetry, see C. M. Bowra’s Primitive Song (New York: World, 1962) and Eleanor Wilner’s Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael E. Holstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Chinese University of Hong KongHong Kong

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