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Unruly Spirits

Unruly Spirits: The Science of Psychic Phenomena in Modern France

M. Brady Brower
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Unruly Spirits
    Book Description:

    Unruly Spirits connects the study of seances, telepathy, telekinesis, materializations, and other parapsychic phenomena in France during the age of Sigmund Freud to an epistemological crisis that would eventually yield the French adoption of psychoanalysis. Skillfully navigating experiments conducted by nineteenth-century French psychical researchers and the wide-ranging debates that surrounded their work, M. Brady Brower situates the institutional development of psychical research at the intersection of popular faith and the emergent discipline of psychology._x000B__x000B_Brower shows how spiritualist mediums were ignored by French academic scientists for nearly three decades. Only after the ideologues of the Third Republic turned to science to address what they took to be the excess of popular democracy would the marvels of mediumism begin to emerge as legitimate objects of scientific inquiry. Taken up by the most prominent physicists, physiologists, and psychologists of the last decades of the nineteenth century, psychical research would eventually stall in the 1920s as researchers struggled to come to terms with interpersonal phenomena (such as trust and good faith) that could not be measured within the framework of their experimental methods._x000B__x000B_In characterizing psychical research as something other than a mere echo of popular spirituality or an anomaly among the sciences, Brower argues that the questions surrounding mediums served to sustain the scientific project by forestalling the establishment of a closed and complete system of knowledge. By acknowledging persistent doubt about the intentions of its participants, psychical research would result in the realization of a subjectivity that was essentially indeterminate and would thus clear the way for the French reception of psychoanalysis and the Freudian unconscious and its more comprehensive account of subjective uncertainty.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09005-9
    Subjects: History, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Psychical Research and French Science
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    If “psychical research” is an expression that has limited currency among contemporary Anglophones, the French equivalents,les sciences psychiquesandla métapsychique,are even less obvious to French ears. A quick analysis of any of these terms would not be incorrect in concluding that they have something in common with the field of psychology. A survey of the membership of the field of psychical research would reveal a number of prominent figures associated with the development of psychology in the late nineteenth century. For those who invented both the expression and the field of study to which it referred, “psychical...

  5. 1 From Religious Enthusiasm to Reluctant Science Psychical Research, 1848–1882
    (pp. 1-26)

    On 29 May 1853 the famed physicist François Arago submitted a letter to the assembled body of the French scientific elite reporting a most unusual phenomenon. The letter, written by the celebrated rail and bridge engineer Marc Seguin, began with a reference to the astonishing rumors then circulating throughout Paris of mundane household objects being moved by a mysterious invisible force. Upon first hearing them, Seguin admitted that the rumors seemed “so extraordinary and so inconceivable that I did not hesitate in rejecting them.” Seguin’s position changed radically after he conducted a series of personal investigations in the course of...

  6. 2 The Development of Psychical Research in France, 1882–1900
    (pp. 27-44)

    In 1886 Pierre Janet, a younglycéeprofessor in the northern town of Le Havre, addressed a report to the Parisian Société de Psychologie Physiologique that described a series of experiments in which he had placed an illiterate rural woman called Léonie B. into a state of somnambulism by, it seemed, mental suggestion alone. Instead of the usual “passes” that the magnetist performed in the presence of his subject, the young experimenter found that he only had to form in his mind a suggestion that Léonie slip into her sleeplike state in order for her to actually do so. This...

  7. 3 The Measure of Uncertainty The Institut Général Psychologique, 1900–1908
    (pp. 45-74)

    As much as the debate about mediumism focused on the reality or absence of reality in mediumistic phenomena, it also raised the question of what reality exactly the study of mediumism should commit itself to testing. In France this question was in large part a product of the institutional and methodological divisions that had shaped the study of psychology up to the end of the nineteenth century. Whether the facts of mediumism were primarily physical or psychological in nature depended mostly on the position within the disciplines from which one approached the question. For those who understood the call for...

  8. 4 The Master and His Double Charles Richet and the Literary Unconscious
    (pp. 75-92)

    In 1889, in one of the many accounts he presented over the course of his career on the subject of somnambulism, the eminent physiologist Charles Richet wrote of a Parisian doctor named Laurent Verdine. Verdine had discovered a young woman in the provincial town of Plancheuille who appeared receptive to what Richet’s friend and colleague Pierre Janet had publicized three years earlier as “mental suggestion at a distance.”¹ The woman of Richet’s account, referred to as “Marthe” and described as a novice attached to the local parish, had been consulting Verdine about a chronic lung infection when she spontaneously fell...

  9. 5 In the Wake of War The Institut Métapsychique International
    (pp. 93-111)

    The years between 1918 and 1923 were marked by several important events in the development of psychical research. Interest in spiritism was dramatically renewed in this period among the millions seeking messages of redemption and rehabilitation in the aftermath of the great catastrophe of the First World War. Psychical research was a clear beneficiary of this abundant popular sympathy, gathering moral and financial support that had been lacking in earlier decades. Principal among the various developments in the field was the foundation in 1919 of the Institut Métapsychique International (IMI), which in the interwar period was to take up where...

  10. 6 The Limits of Method The Question of Good Faith and the Decline of Psychical Research
    (pp. 112-142)

    In spite of the increased enthusiasm for psychical research in the years immediately following the end of the First World War, the field would fail to find acceptance within the realms of official science and skeptical popular opinion. This is not to say that psychical research was simply dismissed or ignored. Indeed, a great deal of interest, both skeptical and sympathetic, was shown, much more so, in fact, than was exhibited for that other heterodoxy within the field of modern psychology—psychoanalysis.

    From the perspective of the French attitudes toward science, psychical research had an advantage over psychoanalysis in that,...

  11. CONCLUSION: Indeterminacy and the Discourse of Tables
    (pp. 143-148)

    In the history of the psychoanalytic movement, talking furniture has had, at least on one occasion, something quite important to say. It was in 1955, before the neuropsychiatric clinic in Vienna, that Jacques Lacan would allow himself to be figuratively upstaged by a talking desk. In the midst of a discourse disparaging the turn that psychoanalytic practice had taken since the 1930s as “ego psychology,” Lacan yielded the floor to the loquacious lectern. The gesture was, of course, a stunt, an illustration of the very ventriloquism of clinical practice that his speech was calling into question. The desk speaks: “The...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 149-176)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-194)
  14. Index
    (pp. 195-202)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-204)