In fin-de-siècle France, hypnotism enjoyed an unprecedented level of medico-scientific legitimacy. Researchers studying hypnotism had nonetheless to manage relations between their new ‘science’ and its widely denigrated precursor, magnétisme animal, because too great a resemblance between the two could damage the reputation of ‘scientific’ hypnotism. They did so by engaging in the rhetorical activity of boundary-work. This paper analyses such demarcation strategies in major texts from the Salpêtrière and Nancy Schools – the rival groupings that dominated enquiry into hypnotism in the 1880s. Researchers from both Schools depicted magnétisme as ‘unscientific’ by emphasizing the magnetizers’ tendency to interpret phenomena in wondrous or supernatural terms. At the same time, they acknowledged and recuperated the ‘portions of truth’ hidden within the phantasmagoria of magnétisme; these ‘portions’ function as positive facts in the texts on hypnotism, immutable markers of an underlying natural order that accounts for similarities between phenomena of magnétisme and hypnotism. If this strategy allows for both continuities and discontinuities between the two fields, it also constrains the scope for theoretical speculation about hypnotism, as signalled, finally, by a reading of one fictional study of the question, Anatole France's ‘Monsieur Pigeonneau’.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society.