Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Emily Ogden's "Credulity"

Emily Ogden is assistant professor of English at the University of Virginia.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Credulity: A Cultural History of US Mesmerism, and reported the following:
Credulity tells how mesmerism, an early form of hypnosis, started out as a mind control technique and then became, improbably, a means of free expression. Page 99 is right where this shift occurs. Before, the book is mostly about control; after, freedom takes over.

Mesmerists claimed they had the ability to entrance people, transforming them from ordinary citizens into obedient robots with clairvoyant powers. The practice first emerged in France, then took an extraordinary journey across three continents to get to the US in 1836. From strictly run French hospitals, it migrated to Caribbean plantations and then to American factory towns. A slaveholder, Charles Poyen, brought it to America. Here's how I summarize the travels of this brainwashing method on page 99:
In Paris, the powers that magnetism had borrowed from the world's false religions made some patients compliant and helped diagnose others. In Guadeloupe, mesmerism warded off rebellion. And in the United States, it made a more tractable weaver [factory worker] out of the first American somnambulist. ("Somnambulist" is a name for the mesmeric subject.)
On page 99, things look dark. But this program of domination is about to unravel. In the chapters to come, mesmeric clairvoyants turn mind control into entertainment. They fly through the air, they do impressions of other people's personalities, and eventually they develop something similar to the stage hypnosis you can still see today, where people quack like ducks and do other outlandish things at the mesmerist’s bidding. By the end of the book (and of mesmerism’s history), brainwashing is no longer a dark art; it’s an improv technique.
Learn more about Credulity at the University of Chicago Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Credulity.

--Marshal Zeringue