Possessed: Hypnotic Crimes, Corporate Fiction, and the Invention of Cinema

Possessed: Hypnotic Crimes, Corporate Fiction, and the Invention of Cinema

Possessed: Hypnotic Crimes, Corporate Fiction, and the Invention of Cinema

Possessed: Hypnotic Crimes, Corporate Fiction, and the Invention of Cinema


Silent cinema and contemporaneous literature explored themes of mesmerism, possession, and the ominous agency of corporate bodies that subsumed individual identities. At the same time, critics accused film itself of exerting a hypnotic influence over spellbound audiences. Stefan Andriopoulos shows that all this anxiety over being governed by an outside force was no marginal oddity, but rather a pervasive concern in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Tracing this preoccupation through the period's films- as well as its legal, medical, and literary texts- Andriopoulos pays particular attention to the terrifying notion of murder committed against one's will. He returns us to a time when medical researchers described the hypnotized subject as a medium who could be compelled to carry out violent crimes, and when films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler famously portrayed the hypnotist's seemingly unlimited power on the movie screen. Juxtaposing these medicolegal and cinematic scenarios with modernist fiction, Andriopoulos also develops an innovative reading of Kafka's novels, which center on the merging of human and corporate bodies.
Blending theoretical sophistication with scrupulous archival research and insightful film analysis, Possessed adds a new dimension to our understanding of today's anxieties about the onslaught of visual media and the expanding reach of vast corporations that seem to absorb our own identities.


In the spring of 1887 Jean Mollinier participated as a subject in a number of public hypnotic exhibitions. The shoemaker, who practiced his trade on rue Chapon in the Third Arrondissement of Paris, was deeply affected by the experiments. Mollinier had a history of mental instability and now he came to regard the hypnotic phenomena as caused by supernatural agency. He believed himself under the influence of an invisible spirit that demanded his death. On the afternoon of May 21 he could no longer escape the power of these hallucinations. The craftsman donned his best apparel and went to a house on rue Lacépède. There, the neighbors noticed him engaged in an animated discussion, though nobody else seemed to be present. Finally Mollinier pulled out a revolver and shot himself—as if surrendering to the irresistible command of the invisible spirit.

Warning his readers against “The Dangers of Hypnotism,” the journalist Hughes Ie Roux reported this story on June 1, 1887, in the newspaper Le Temps. But a surprisingly similar plot was also at the center of a famous literary text, which had come out just a few days earlier. In Guy de Maupassant’s Le Horla (1887), the nameless narrator witnesses a hypnotic exhibition that profoundly unsettles him, since it appears to confirm his obsessive fear of an “invisible being.” Like Mollinier, the unfortunate narrator gradually submits to the control of this invisible being and is eventually driven to suicide.

1. See Hughes le Roux, “La vie à Paris: Les dangers de l’hypnotisme” (1887). Unless
otherwise noted all translations are mine.

2. Maupassant [1887] 1979/1990,921/284.1 am referring to the second version of Le
Horla from 1887, which differs considerably from the shorter, first version that had ap
peared in October of 1886. Throughout this book, page references that are divided by
a slash (/) indicate first the page number in the original version of the quoted text (921)
and then the corresponding number in the published English translation (284). An
asterisk after the second number marks that the translation has been modified.

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