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

Author:Proctor, Dylan Atchley
Position::AFRICA - Book review

Hunt, Nancy Rose. A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.

A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo revisits the history of the southern Equateur region in Leopoldian and Belgian Congo from 1885 to 1960. Combing through a vast array of primary source material--from Lomongo memory essays, colonial records, photography, songs, and her own ethnographic encounters--Nancy Rose Hunt argues that the nervousness at the core of the two colonial states, the Congo Free State (1885-1908) and the Belgian Congo (1908-1960), stimulated oscillating regimes bringing the state, its actors, and the local Congolese into collision. One tension was "biopolitical." Its hyper-focus on declining fertility resulted in increasing experimentation to heal and control Congolese bodies. The other was "securitizing." Failing attempts to survey the population and quell insurrection motivated colonial agents to immobilize and violate Congolese men and women. Interspersed among the fumbling colonial state, Congolese innovated vernacular therapies to mend their own nerves and resist colonial subjugation. Therapeutic efforts harnessed parallel logics of healing and harming to inspire calm and increase mobility. The remedies rooted out pollution, induced dreams of a liberated Congo, and quieted "troubled, unwell women" (5).

The structure of this history is as much thematic as it is chronological. It traces "jittery states," juggling the carceral, biopolitical, and vernacular (5). At times putting chronological or geographically distinct events together in order to capture the "afterlives" of historical events, Hunt demonstrates a deft hand at tracing the emotive and sensorial links that culminate into a shifting, nervous state (3). The introduction and conclusion that frame this text outline Hunt's deep engagement with theory. Hunt constructs the tools that offer her the analytical perception to reexamine and deepen the readers understanding of Congolese history. Chapter 1 revisits the violence of Leopoldian Congo and follows its traces through the actors and actions of Belgian Congo. The middle four chapters explore moments in which African therapeutics and the efforts of the state collided. Chapter 6 explores mobility in a variety of forms from the relocation of Congolese dissidents to fluctuating capacities to dream.

Hunt's text demonstrates that colonial Congo's history can be read...

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