Was Castoriadis tutored in French as a child by a Nazi mystic?


I was talking to a colleague about Castoriadis; he hadn’t heard of him previously, and was intrigued. On getting home, he searched on the internet and found multiple sites claiming that Savitri Devi, fascist mystic, tutored Castoriadis (presumably in French) from 1932-1935. Born in 1922, Castoriadis would have been 10-13 years old in these years.

Savitri Devi was the adopted name of Maximine Julia Portas, born in 1905 to a Greco-French father and English mother. She became a fascist very early in life, and would certainly have been one from 1932-1935. She was an active spy for Axis Powers during Workd War II, and continued public pro-Nazi pilgrimages and wrote books of fascist ideology and adulation until her death in 1982. She supported the British National Party,  and her ashes are supposedly housed alongside those of George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party of America. 

She similarly renounced Christianity early on and became an advocate of the notion of aryan paganism, which she pursued to India, where she believed Hinduism was a living aryan paganism.

Devi/Portas always claimed to be in India 1932-1935, and the only proof to the contrary seems to be this claim by Castoriadis. He would have been 10-13 years old at the time.

I’d never heard of this before and was a bit stunned: Castoriadis joined the Communist Party as a teenager, and fled Greece pursued and attacked by fascists and stalinists alike. The idea that he was educated at such a crucial point in his life by one of the a famous-and famously weird-fascist ideologue was definitely a surprise.

My searches reveal the exact same wording and reference in all the online sources, all of which reference a radio show and a date. The wording in these web sites, in all cases, seem to trace to a 2015 book called The esoteric codex: naziism and the occult, by Hans Tilde.

The radio show itself is three hours and in French. It was recorded in 1996.  It’s in French and three hours long, so it’ll take me some time to find the right spot.


Ontologies Project

My work has recently taken me into conversation with various disciplines about the nature of ‘ontology,’ by which different people, even within single disciplines, often mean quite different things (often without realizing it, apparently, and thus much of the discourse speaks past its interlocutors). Some of the work is fascinating, some infuriating, most of it knotty and complicated in ways I either love or loathe, depending on my energy and mood. Much of it is also unnecessarily ornately written, which I never appreciate, and will attempt to avoid, despite recognizing the value of technical jargon.

So, for myself, and intended as a fragment beginning of a project, here is a bibliography of things I have or intend to read, and about which I will eventually probably post a fair number of notes (or at least which will result in some writing of some sort). I’ll edit this as I go, not note the updates within this post [heads up!], and welcome suggestions and critiques in the comments. Continue reading


Review: Andrew Johnson’s “Ghosts of the New City”

Johnson, Andrew Alan. 2014. Ghosts of the new city: spirits, urbanity, and the ruins of progress in Chiang Mai. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

University of Hawai’i Link

Amazon Link

Review by Erik W. Davis

This book is about the idea of the city as a space similarly ‘haunted’ by magico-religious notions of charismatic power—power that retains its significance even in the face of Thailand’s transformation into a nation-state and current entrance into the neoliberal economic moment. (1)

This book is also an anthropologist’s response to Tony Day’s (2002) call for historical studies that take culture into account and draw connections between premodern ways of interpreting new forms of power and modern ones (see also Kapferer 1988). (2)

The quotes above indicate the thematic relations between such topics as the city, ghosts, urban development, and economic fluctuations. Another related question is asked a bit later: “What makes urbanity in Southeast Asia distinct from how it has been conceived in the West? How might the legacy of the city as a vehicle for articulating religious notions of power come to articulate ‘secular’ notions of power and progress?” (4) As such, Johnson sets his work in conversation with multiple disciplines, intersecting at his site: urban studies, postcolonial studies, development, religious studies, and of course anthropology.

Continue reading


Talk at UC Berkeley on October 19: “Past Lives Present, Tense”

I am very excited to be giving a talk on my next book project, titled “Past Lives Present, Tense,” at UC Berkeley’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies on Monday, October 19th, 4-5:30, in the Doe Library. [link]

While my first book, Deathpower: Buddhism’s Ritual Imagination in Cambodia, is not quite out yet (December), I’m looking forward to sharing my current ongoing work, receive feedback, and keep this new project moving forward.

Hope to see you there.

Past Lives Present, Tense
There are few ethnographic studies of past-life memory today. Such accounts are more frequently found in sensationalist or religiously aspirational accounts. And yet, the assumption that individuals experience death and rebirth is a widely shared constant among most populations that identify as Buddhist in Southeast Asia. This book addresses the scholarly gap in our knowledge in three rebirth narratives collected from 2004-2008.

The first narrative involves a slight twist on the stereotype of Buddhist past life memory. Usually presented as the positive accomplishment of an ascetic, the awareness and knowledge of past lives is often even thought to be a precondition for Buddhist enlightenment. In this first narrative I discuss the case of a Buddhist lay-leader whom I got to know very well in 2005 and after. At the time he claimed to remember 1001 past lives, including an existence as the Cambodian Patriarch of the bulk of the Twentieth Century, Ven. Chuon Nath. He also claimed the existence of the birth of the ‘Buddha of the Future,’ Maitreya, in Cambodia. Later on he was at the center of a scandal in which he claimed to be Maitreya. The second narrative is of a young Cambodian woman whose past-life memory disturbed her parents, who took a series of actions intended to force her to forget the past life. This very usual response to the existence of past-life memory indicates that it is not always a good thing, or associated with ascetics. The third narrative is of a young woman whose past life memories were not only approved by the great patriarch named earlier, Ven. Chuon Nath, but who successfully put two family lines together as a consequence.

Throughout these narratives and my analysis of them, I discuss the ways in which they illuminate Buddhism and Cambodian culture, and challenge certain conventional views of these phenomena and their cultural meaning.


Deathpower Book Announcement

Cover of my book

I have many things I hope to post at this site soon, including a length review of Andrew Alan Johnson’s (excellent) book Ghosts of the New City: Spirits, Urbanity, and the Ruins of Progress in Chiang Mai, a discussion linking that work to Bruce and Martha Lincoln’s recent hauntological article, “Toward a critical hauntology: Bare afterlife and the ghosts of Ba Chúc.” All of this results in me rethinking some thing about ghosts and their institution in Southeast Asia (and perhaps more broadly). But for the moment,

Columbia UP has produced a flyer promoting my book Deathpower, which will be released in the next two months, which means two things: the cover can now be seen, and there is a 30% off promotional code if you order it online from CUP. For more information click here.


Notes Towards a “Mustache of Understanding” [Parody] Piece

Without comment, but completely in the character and tone of voice of Thomas Friedman (he who possesses the Mustache of Understanding), I begin in media res in the back of a Taxi, where a taxi driver asks me my opinion of Cambodia’s development. (this stuff writes itself, I’m just holding back the funny parts). I respond, and a brief but illuminating discussion follows, full of bizarre and inappropriate metaphors that lead me to conclude something something i have neoliberal critiques but think everything is going as well as possible.

Extract from the above section:

As he began to speak about development, I could feel a bead of sweat moving through my mustache. I begin to feel precisely how this hard-working neo-liberal citizen of Cambodia’s future felt. I understood him.”

Second Vignette, but this time in three different tuk-tuks going to karaoke, dance, and hostess bars. What is development in this discussion? I respond, and a brief but illuminating discussion follows, full of bizarre and inappropriate metaphors that lead me to conclude Cambodian culture something something i have neoliberal critiques but think everything is going as well as possible.

Third Vignette, but this time on a dark road just outside Anlong Veng in 2001. Tone drastically changed to simple reportage. I walk alone back in the dark toward the large Australian dominated NGO center where I’ve shacked up for a few days. It seems like the old man keeps changing his trajectory to intersect with me as he and I move towards each other in the dark.  As I pass, he looks up roughly two-thirds of a meter, straight into my eyes, and says “Joi Mae.”