Magical Thinking & "Teletechnologies"
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Book Reviews Magical Thinking & "Teletechnologies" Pamela Thurschwell. Literature, Technology and Magical Thinking, 1880-1920. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. χ + 194 pp. $54.95 THIS SUGGESTIVE STUDY explores the ways turn-of-thecentury "teletechnologies"—the telegraph, the telephone, the phonograph , the radio—affected conceptions of intimacy and communication. Thurschwell examines the records of the Society for Psychical Research; Oscar Wilde, aestheticism, and hypnotic "influence"; Henry James and the afterlife bestowed on him by one of his secretaries (Theodora Bosanquet ); and the early history of psychoanalysis (especially Freud and Sandor Ferenczi) to show how various modes of intimate understanding and thought-transmission were "often imagined in terms of simultaneously supernatural, technological and spatial connections." In the opening chapter, focused mainly on the Society for Psychical Research, Thurschwell points out that "telepathy," a word coined by F. W. H. Myers in 1882, "is connected to other forms of teletechnology, and often imagined as functioning in the same way ... with the same popular 'scientific' explanations or lack of them." Thurschwell reads the records of the Society, writings by several of its members, and also statements or stories by Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling ("Wireless"), and Phillipe Villiers de l'Isle Adam (Tomorrow's Eve) to reveal widespread interest in attempts to overcome obstacles—death, distance, materiality—to direct , unmediated communication or "transmission" of thoughts and feelings . Thurschwell also notes that this same interest is evident in the early history of psychoanalysis, a topic she returns to in her final chapter on Freud and Ferenczi. Both in telepathy and in occult communication with the dead, the fantasy of an immaterial, immediate access to the mind of another was a version of "magical thinking" that took a different, more threatening form in late-century interest in hypnosis: "hopeful cultural fantasies of the possibilities of telepathic contact were balanced by an anxious sense that someone or something might get inside one's mind and control one's actions." This was a fantasy, Thurschwell argues, that Oscar Wilde played out both in life and in his writing. Hypnotic influence is tied to what might be called the queer uncanny in aestheticism in The Picture 322 BOOK REVIEWS of Dorian Gray, of course, but also in other, related works from Pater's The Renaissance and Joris-Karl Huysmans's A Rebours through George Du Maurier's Trilby and J. MacLaren Cobban's Master of His Fate. While Thurschwell ably explores the connections among literature, magical thinking, and patterns especially of queer intimacy and desire in this chapter, the link to technology that was a main feature of the first chapter drops away here and also in the next chapter, "Henry James's Lives During Wartime." Thurschwell's analysis of James's A Sense of the Past in relation to his "obscure hurt," his shame, and his closeted "open secret" leads to a number of interesting conclusions, mainly about James's own "magical faith in the efficacy of his own consciousness," but more generally about everyone's need for identification through community, through saying "we." At the end of this chapter, Thurschwell writes of "James's unsatisfiable desires ... to identify with the mass," and continues: "James's attempts to say 'we' may have failed, may have embarrassed him, may even have killed him, but perhaps, they also moved him, and us, further towards the recognition of what was always already a queer nation." The story of James's closeted queer desires and identifications continues in the third chapter, in which technology again comes to the fore through the typewriter as well as the telegraph. "On the Typewriter, In the Cage, at the Ouija Board" is mainly about James's relationships with his secretaries, to whom he dictated his novels, and especially with his third, most important secretary, Theodora Bosanquet. After James's death, Bosanquet continued her work through automatic writing, taking dictation from the master from beyond the grave. Thurschwell's main interest is not in relegating "psycho-secretarial dynamics... to the level of Bosanquet's personal psychopathology," but analyzing those dynamics "as a crossing of certain specific social, literary and cultural phenomena . . . . the interest of automatic writing and mediumship as Bosanquet uses it [lies] in its existing on the...


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