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Blind Boy Apollo
and the All-White Astronauts

New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Tuesday, November 22

blinded by the light

There's an article in today's New York Times titled This Is Your Brain Under Hypnosis...
Hypnosis had a false start in the 18th century when a German physician, Dr. Franz Mesmer, devised a miraculous cure for people suffering all manner of unexplained medical problems. Amid dim lights and ethereal music played on a glass harmonica, he infused them with an invisible "magnetic fluid" that only he was able to muster. Thus mesmerized, clients were cured.

Although Dr. Mesmer was eventually discredited, he was the first person to show that the mind could be manipulated by suggestion to affect the body, historians say. This central finding was resurrected by Dr. James Braid, an English ophthalmologist who in 1842 coined the word hypnosis after the Greek word for sleep.

Braid reportedly put people into trances by staring at them intently, but he did not have a clue as to how it worked. In this vacuum, hypnosis was adopted by spiritualists and stage magicians who used dangling gold watches to induce hypnotic states in volunteers from the audience, and make them dance, sing or pretend to be someone else, only to awaken at a hand clap and laughter from the crowd.

Update: 24 hours after it was published, the above piece was the #1 most-emailed article on the NY Times site. Which has gotta tell you... something.

Among those most "hypnotized" by early demonstrations of mesmerism in the United States was Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, who launched the "religious science" that came to be known as the New Thought movement. New Thought gave rise to Christian Science, founded by one of Quimby's students, Mary Baker Eddy. It also spawned Unity® -- fast growing in popularity today among the New Age crowd, largely thanks to its popularity with Alcoholics Anonymous and its prodigious publishing efforts. Here's a typical clip on "prosperity" from Unity's Daily Word magazine:

I give thanks for rich blessings of Spirit in my life and the world.

The blessings of Spirit are within me and for me. I turn my attention to each expression of good in my life and in the world. With an attitude of gratitude, I acknowledge the inexhaustible substance of Spirit.

Spirit speaks to me through the desires of my heart. I am blessed with more than what is necessary to meet my everyday needs and to fulfill my dreams.

That "attitude of gratitude" trope is a sure signal of the Unity/AA connection. (A similar AA connection put M. Scott Peck on the map. The Road Less Traveled had been in print for five years before AA discovered it; for the next five years, it never left the New York Times bestseller list). Make no mistake, however: Unity and New Thought are "religions" in which a "get more stuff" frame of mind is not considered a spiritual obstacle. Far from it.

But back to more traditional notions of mesmerism. Oxford University Press describes George Du Maurier's novel Trilby as follows...

First published in 1894, the story of the diva Trilby O'Ferrall and her mentor, Svengali, has entered the mythology of that period alongside Dracula and Sherlock Holmes. Immensely popular for years, the novel led to a hit play, a series of popular films, Trilby products from hats to ice-cream, and streets in Florida named after characters in the book.

It is made very clear in Trilby that Svengali, the mesmerist, is a Jew. The following is from an article by Neil R. Davison titled "'The Jew' as homme/femme-fatale: Jewish (art)ifice, Trilby, and Dreyfus" (Jewish Social Studies; 1 January 2002). The passage is discussing Daniel Pick's book, Svengali's Web: The Alien Enchanter in Modern Culture.

Pick devotes an entire chapter to the popularity of Victorian mesmeric narratives, and he associates the "sexual charge" at the heart of Trilby as potentializing the nineteenth-century attraction/repulsion to "sexual confusion and moral violation." Obviously valid, the point must also be set in the context of Trilby's much greater success as compared to other tales exploiting Victorian repression, whether they made use of the popularity of hypnotism or not. In this manner, Pick's emphasis of the novel's unique imbrication of mesmerism, sexual power, the music hall, and "the Jew" becomes somewhat hesitant, especially in the face of authorial commentary throughout the novel pertaining to the subterranean, destructive powers of both "Jewishness" and "the Jew." Pick recognizes Anglo-American liberal ambivalence toward Jews as essential to the novel's significance but does not confront fully how the work positions the myth of Aryan dominance and the cultural threat of "the Jew" as the widest social base of sympathy for Trilby and her plight.

Black leather
Trilby style hat,
looks good with smart or casual outfits.

On a final note, it seems that Nabokov's novel Lolita bears an uncanny resemblance to Trilby -- one that cannot have been entirely accidental. The following are notes from The Annotated Lolita (H.H. = Humbert Humbert, the main character, not counting the title role).
  • H.H. is often mistaken for a Jew; see p. 79, where John Farlow is on the point of making an anti-Semitic remark and is interrupted by sensitive Jean. Quilty thinks H.H. may be a "German refugee," and reminds him, "This is a Gentile's house, you know."
  • "...on the other hand we are still spared..." "I wish," interrupted Jean with a laugh, "Dolly and Rosaline were spending the summer together."
  • interrupted Jean: John is about to say "Jews," and Jean, suspecting that H.H. may be Jewish, tactfully interrupts.
  • 250/10 Phineas Quimby, Lebanon, NH: in mythology, Phineas provided Jason the directions to find the Golden Fleece; while Phineas Quimby (1802-1866) was an American pioneer in the field of mental healing, born in Lebanon, NH. He initially specialized in mesmerism, and for several years gave public hypnotic exhibitions (1838-1847). H.H.'s coercion of both Lolita and the reader make him a latter-day specialist, and on p. 308 he says that "Mesmer Mesmer" was one of the possible pseudonyms he had considered for his narrative.

Is it just me, or does the plot truly thicken?

from mesmer to freud: magnetic sleep and the roots of psychological healing

mingling minds: phineas parkhurst quimby's science of health & happiness

forgotten founder of new thought

each mind a kingdom: american women, sexual purity, and the new thought movement, 1875-1920

the alien enchanter in modern culture

"Trilby, hypnotized by Svengali. Svengali's exaggerated features
were typical of anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews at the turn of
the century. This engraving was done by Du Maurier himself for
the first edition of the novel in 1894." [via]