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CURING THE FAITHFUL: MESMERISM AND THE HISTORICAL IMAGINATION

Abstract : I show that historical interpretation and appropriation played a crucial role in the Mesmer controversy. In writing histories of animal magnetism, physicians would develop the central arguments against mersmerism that would shape the later controversy. First, these physicians argued that animal magnetism had a long genealogy, and was derivative of 16th and 17th century speculations. According to the medical establishment, this tradition was suspect, however, full or error and speculation, and it had already been rejected in the course of the 17th century, when experimental philosophy had dispelled such vain superstitions. Second, they claimed that animal magnetism is not real but only an effect of the imagination. They based themselves on medical explanations made in older, now paradigmatic cases, and they explored the parallels with the contemporary discourse about mesmerism. It is striking that, despite these historicizations of animal magnetism, the concept of the imagination is used uncritically and is not historicized. Also in the secondary literature on the mesmerism debate, the imagination is taken for granted or is contextualised only to a limited degree. It is the aim of this paper to historicize the concept of imagination that determined the mesmerism controversies by closely studying how the concept was used and from which sources it was derived. In this way, we will get a new perspective on this crucial aspect of the Mesmer debates, which will allow us to reinterpret this episode in the historiography of the imagination.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00638480
Contributor : Koen Vermeir <>
Submitted on : Friday, November 4, 2011 - 6:58:38 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, April 14, 2020 - 2:38:37 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 2:30:09 AM

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  • HAL Id : halshs-00638480, version 1

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Koen Vermeir. CURING THE FAITHFUL: MESMERISM AND THE HISTORICAL IMAGINATION. 2011. ⟨halshs-00638480⟩

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