Academic journal article The Romanic Review

'L'Eve Future' and the Hypnotic Feminine

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

'L'Eve Future' and the Hypnotic Feminine

Article excerpt

In October 1885, Freud arrived in Paris on a traveling bursary to study lunder Jean-Martin Charcot, Chair of Neurology at the Salpetriere Hospital. Although he expected to pursue his neurological studies at the clinic, Charcot's dynamic personality and original insights into hysteria determined Freud to turn his attention to the psychological. Charcot's legacy to psychoanalysis, already clearly charted (Roudinesco; Chertok and Saussure), included his research on hypnosis, a phenomenon with which Freud was already familiar upon his arrival at the Salpetriere. A derivative of mesmerism - itself a brand of animal magnetism - hypnosis was named in 1840 by the Scottish doctor James Braid. Leaving behind the mesmerist's paraphernalia (baquets, magnets, and wands), the hypnotist gained access through suggestion to a passive subject's "private theatre," to use Anna O.'s term. Charcot's privileged technique in the demonstration of hysteria, hypnosis was later renounced by Freud in favor of free association. Yet the specter of suggestion haunted Freud long after the "age d'or"(2) of hypnosis, as evinced in his comparison of the transference to suggestion: "It must dawn on us that in our technique we have abandoned hypnosis only to rediscover suggestion in the form of the transference" (Introductory Lectures 16: 446). Indeed, a new golden age of hypnosis has recently dawned in theories that, in placing emphasis on Freud's comments on suggestion, posit a fundamental hypnotic or passive phase preceding the birth of the Freudian subject (Borch-Jacobsen et al., Roustang). This renewed interest in the phenomenon calls for further study of the historical significance of hypnosis through, for example, the reading of literary texts that include the technique in their repertoire of narrative accessories."(3)

In March 1886, as Freud's studies in Paris came to an end, La Vie moderne concluded its publication in serial form of L'euve future, a novel by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, then noted for his Contes cruels. The feuilleton was a revision and expansion of several previous versions of the text and would first appear in volume form in May 1886. In this paper, I read Villiers's novel as an example of the fictional staging of the hypnotic trance, for the text is a fantastic transcription of and musing on the investigations concerning hypnosis that occupied both medical circles and the general public at the time."(4) 1886 thus saw both a monumental moment in the prehistory of psychoanalysis - its incorporation of hypnosis(5) - and a finalized version of the work that had occupied Villiers since the late 1970s. Indeed, a notable modification in this definitive version of the text is its added emphasis on hypnosis; whereas L'Eve nouvelle of 1880-81 does not present suggestion as a tool for the fabrication of the ideal female android, its successor in 1885-86 includes numerous references to magnetism and hypnosis.

L'Eve future has recently received attention from a range of critics, in particular feminist psychoanalytic and film theorists (Bellour, Doane, Hedges, Huet, Michelson)(6) - it is, one might say, on the tip of postmodernity's tongue. The late nineteenth-century work speaks to us at the close of the twentieth century through its discourse on the ambivalent status of the generative yet sterile machine. As beings in a technological age - "cyborgs" in the words of Donna Haraway - we are gripped - hypnotized - as we interface with the technical objects that are modifying our relation to being itself. Current reflections on the borderline status of the human machine are eerily foreshad owed by Villiers, and it is this early glimpse of the technological future that so fascinates contemporary readers of L:Eve future. Moreover, feminist critics have been quick to note the gender of Vill lers's android, an Eve, not an Adam, of the future. My purpose is to draw on these insights and relate them to the traditional application of hypnosis as a treatment for specifically feminine ills. …

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