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Posts Tagged ‘Animal Magnetism’

Lost in Music

July 24, 2014 | by

Musical mind control from Mesmer to the Satanic panic.

7760.dd.4 (3), Pl.XX

A hysterical patient in a catatonic fit, supposedly caused by the huge tuning fork. Désiré Magloire Bourneville and Paul Regnard, Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière (1876–1880).

To lose oneself in music is generally regarded as a good thing—an ecstatic experience, or at least an absent-minded pleasure. But despite the Eminems, Daft Punks, and Sister Sledges of the world, Western culture has often had niggling fears about letting go in that way. What if the music can make you do things? What if surrendering to it means surrendering the parts of yourself that hold you back from madness, adultery, and murder? What if heavy metal sends teens on killing sprees? What if rock and roll makes girls shed their sexual inhibitions, causing a rash of nymphomania and pregnancy and the collapse of social order—or what if it can whip crowds into a malleable frenzy, leaving them the pitiful stooges of Communist or other sinister causes? What if it can be used with other forms of thought control to turn people into Manchurian Candidate–style automatons?

The fear, however implausible, that music has mysterious powers—that it can hypnotize or brainwash, making us the playthings of malign manipulators or our own dark instincts—has crept into the public discourse surprisingly often over the past two hundred years. Concerns about the medical, sexual, social, and political consequences of musical hypnosis are an essentially modern business; until the eighteenth century, trance states were often seen in a positive light, even as a way of connecting to the divine. But against the background of the internalized self-control demanded by modern urban society, trance states have been increasingly regarded as pathological symptoms—something to be explained by doctors, not priests. Read More »

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Darwin’s Basket Cases, and Other News

May 29, 2014 | by

insanewomanhair

James Davis Cooper after a James Crichton-Browne photograph, Illustration from Chapter XIII of The Expression of the Emotions of Man and Animals; Insane Woman Showing the Condition of Her Hair, c. 1871-1872; image via the Public Domain Review

  • “It’s a curious thing to think of Charles Darwin sitting alone, closely studying photographic portraits of the afflicted and insane. But in the late 1860s, that’s exactly what he began doing: he sifted through portraits of kleptomaniacs, nymphomaniacs, sufferers of severe self-importance, hysteria, and general mania.”
  • Our very own Nicole Rudick on Bough Down, a new book of prose fragments and collage by Karen Green, who “faces a special difficulty: her husband was David Foster Wallace. This fact is both central to Bough Down and incidental to it. On the one hand, he was a famous, much admired writer, and Green’s new identity as ‘the designated survivor’ is one she can’t escape. ‘You are like the moon,’ she writes to Wallace, ‘you shed light on my insignificance from a great, wordless distance.’”
  • Charles Simic remembers the poet Russell Edson: “He thought of poetry as a cast-iron airplane that sporadically flies, chiefly because its pilot doesn’t seem to care if it does or does not.”
  • At the Library of Congress, two hundred and fifty of Thomas Jefferson’s books are missing.
  • The Mesmerists of the eighteenth century believed that music played a vital role in the practice of animal magnetism. The proper tune could cure what ailed you, especially if it were played on one instrument in particular: the glass harmonica. “In fact, the association of the instrument with Mesmerism was one reason why it quickly went out of fashion.”

 

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