Anthropologist Jean-Louis Tornatore analyzes the trance ritual as a fertile image for renewing practices and knowledge from an ecological perspective.

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The idea of a necessary transition towards a more ecological organization of the world is now widely held in public opinion. The question remains, however, how to implement it. Jean-Louis Tornatore, anthropologist and professor emeritus at the University of Burgundy, has written an original book inspired by the phenomenon of trance. His ambition is to question how the exploration of "altered forms of consciousness" can challenge Western cultural and epistemological norms.

Epistemologies of the global South

The author chooses to take seriously the currents coming from various cultural traditions that are urging us to redefine our ways of living and knowing. The ritual of trance, in this instance, not only enables us to move beyond the classical dualisms that separate reason and imagination or material and spiritual. It also acts as a unifying force within communities, conferring meaning on individual existence. According to the author, it offers a fertile image of the transitions we need to make in order to emerge from the Anthropocene and make the world habitable again.

Tornatore's work follows in the footsteps of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers, as far as Western philosophy is concerned. But Tornatore also mobilizes committed intellectuals from other cultures, such as the Mohawk and Cherokee nations. These thoughts show the extent to which the daily struggle for survival of each culture implies, as its flip side, questioning the model of hegemonic rationality produced in particular by Europe.

From this perspective, we need to pay particular attention to forms of refusal, contestation and resistance to the world arrangements imposed by the West. In a way, Tornatore invites us to consolidate the pluralism of cultures in a globalized world of rebellion.

The author focuses in particular on the epistemologies produced in the global South - in the sense given to this term by the Portuguese philosopher Boaventura de Sousa Santos, designating the most disadvantaged regions in the capitalist economic order. These epistemologies propose a reassessment of the relationship to time and space characteristic of Northern epistemology. They also highlight the polemical dynamics of scientific construction, driven by citizen movements. For example, Tornatore exploits the concept of "pluriversality" - as opposed to "universality" - which invites us to multiply our perspectives on the world.

This also leads him to qualify the relevance of the very notion of "Anthropocene", which levels out all the modes of existence and responsibilities of different human societies, and to discuss the alternative notions of "Capitalocene" or "Chthulucene" (Donna Haraway).

Trance or the passage from South to North

The study of the trance phenomenon is part of this general framework: it enables us to re-anchor our relationship with the world in a body that inhabits a singular territory and looks at it from a situated perspective. Highlighting these indigenous bodies opens the way to a plurality of possible worlds, thus countering the emblematic formula of neoliberal discourse: "There is no alternative".

Trance is the experience of otherness par excellence. It invites us to go beyond the oppositions between a normal and an altered state of consciousness; between inside and outside; between unity and plurality; between concentration and expansion. In this sense, it allows us to challenge the major categories of science reduced to positivism and rationalism - which in a way constitute the epistemological side of neoliberalism in politics.

To these doctrines, the author contrasts pragmatism, a current of thought notably championed in the United States by the philosopher John Dewey, which renounces overhanging postures in favor of an ecological conception of knowledge. Trance is thus conceived as a practice, a method and an epistemological metaphor.

From a political point of view, trance constitutes a creative force that cannot be reserved for the magico-religious realm: it frees us from conventional hierarchies and allows us to enter a world where everything acquires an equivalent value, within the primacy of the sensible. In this respect, the author draws fruitful parallels between trance and theater, analyzing the experiments carried out by Jerzy Grotowski and the Odin Teatret in Oslo, involving spectacular collective and ritual expressions.

A renewed anthropological and philosophical stance

Tornatore is well aware that trance is not an anthropological object like any other. Indeed, researchers have long insisted on the need for ethnologists in the field to maintain a certain distance from their observations, and to adopt a strictly rational stance on the practices under study. Yet trance could not be fully understood at such a distance. On the contrary, the author considers that one is never close enough to see what is at stake in such rituals.

From the point of view of philosophical tradition, Tornatore's use of pragmatist thought, and in particular the work of William James, is not always equal to the issues at stake. Likewise, there still seems to be confusion between mechanical rationalism and classical theories of consciousness interpreted in terms of a simple opposition between subject and object - which trance would have the merit of abolishing.

For all that, the book has the merit of giving substance to a certain vision of the contemporary world, organized according to North-South relations (provided we see behind these notions a structure of domination with historical causes, and not strict geographical locations), which the current ecological crisis invites us to go beyond. In this sense, he traces a new reflexive path for anthropology; a path that opens up the vast construction site of a world to be built, which certain ritual-like experiments enable us to approach.