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CredulityA Cultural History of US Mesmerism$
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Emily Ogden

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226532165

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226532479.001.0001

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date: 15 April 2021

It Does Not Exist

It Does Not Exist

Animal Magnetism Before It Was True

(p.25) 1 It Does Not Exist

Emily Ogden

University of Chicago Press

This chapter describes the first major debunking of mesmerism, the Paris animal magnetism investigation of 1784 chaired by Benjamin Franklin, and that debunking’s reception in the US from 1784 to the 1830s. It shows, first, that mesmerism was known in the US as a falsehood before it was known as a truth; and second, that this early debunking furnished mesmerism and hypnosis with a concept important to subsequent practice: suggestion, the phenomenon of the subject readily believing and obeying the mesmerist. This phenomenon was first described not by mesmerists but by Benjamin Franklin and others investigating the claims of mesmerism’s founder Franz Anton Mesmer. The Franklin commission decided that imagination, not animal magnetism, was the reason for the convulsions and cures Mesmer observed: patients believed they would be affected, and so they were. Imagination was the foundation for suggestion. Ranging from Bruno Latour’s work on belief to Elizabeth Inchbald’s play Animal Magnetism and Hannah Webster Foster’s novel The Coquette, this chapter demonstrates the strange tendency of debunking to prompt, rather than suppress, further practice.

Keywords:   Benjamin Franklin, Franz Anton Mesmer, animal magnetism investigation of 1784, Elizabeth Inchbald, Hannah Webster Foster, Bruno Latour, imagination, mesmerism, suggestion, hypnosis

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