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Unruly Spirits

The Science of Psychic Phenomena in Modern France

M. Brady Brower

Publication Year: 2010

In Unruly Spirits, M. Brady Brower connects the study of seances, telepathy, telekinesis, materializations, and other parapsychic phenomena in modern France to an epistemological crisis that would eventually yield the French adoption of psychoanalysis. Skillfully navigating experiments conducted by nineteenth-century French psychical researchers, Brower situates the institutional development of psychical research at the intersection of popular faith and the emergent discipline of psychology. He reveals that, 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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Nineteenth-century spiritists believed that through table rapping, automatic messages, and other methods they had discovered ways of communicating with a vast spirit world and tapping directly into an unlimited reservoir of human knowledge. ...

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Introduction: Psychical Research and French Science

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pp. xv-xviii

If “psychical research” is an expression that has limited currency among contemporary Anglophones, the French equivalents, les sciences psychiques and la 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. ...

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1. From Religious Enthusiams to Reluctant Science: Psychical Research, 1848-1882

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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. ...

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2. The Development of Psychical Research in France, 1882-1900

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pp. 27-44

In 1886 Pierre Janet, a young lycée professor 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. ...

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3. The Measure of Uncertainty: The Institut Général Psychologique, 1900-1908

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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 ...

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4. The Master and His Double: Charles Richet and the Literary Unconcious

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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 ...

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5. In the Wake of War: The Institut Métapsychique International

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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. ...

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6. The Limits of Method: The Question of Good Faith and the Decline of Psychical Research

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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. ...

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Conclusion: Indeterminacy and the Discourse of Tables

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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. ...


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pp. 149-176


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pp. 177-194


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pp. 195-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090059
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035647

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2010