Dream, Creativity, and Madness in Nineteenth-Century France

By Tony James | Go to book overview

22
1900: Creation and Somnambulism

In 1900 Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams, the founding text of psychoanalysis which radically changed the way dreams are seen and the kinds of questions asked about them. With hindsight, from the last years of the twentieth century, this seems obvious. We tend on the whole to be more conscious of the Freudian revolution and its consequences than of the nineteenth-century background. But two other works published in 1900 represent the culmination of nineteenth-century psychological study and the second of them looks both backward and forward. Ribot, some of whose ideas we have already come across, published L'Imagination créatrice,1 thus becoming the first nineteenth-century French philosopher to devote a whole work to questions of creativity,2 and Théodore Flournoy ( 1854-1920), a doctor, philosopher, and psychologist published, under the title Des Indes à la planète Mars,3 observations of an unusually creative medium, whom he named Hélène Smith.

Ribot is in the new tradition which began, as we have seen, with Taine, but L'Imagination créatrice in fact lacks the incisive quality which distinguished parts of Les Maladies de la personnalité. It is disappointingly classificatory; the contents table distinguishes seven kinds of imagination, varying from the mystical to the commercial.4 There are two reasons why it is nevertheless of interest: Ribot specifically links creative work to the 'unconscious',5 and he indicates two psychological mechanisms which the unconscious uses.

____________________
1
T. Ribot, Essai sur l'imagination créatrice ( Alcan, 1900). Quotations are from the 3rd edn., 1908.
2
A.-P. Chabaneix, Essai sur le subsconscient dans les œuvres de l'esprit et chez leurs auteurs ( Bordeaux: Imprimerie du Midi, 1897), cites a number of texts from writers, but is philosophically weak.
3
T. Flournoy, Des Indes à la Planète Mars: Étude sur un cas de somnambulisme avec glossalie (Alcan, 1900). This work was recently repr. with an introduction and remarks by M. Yaguello and M. Cifali (Seuil, 1983).
4
In order, they are: l'imagination plastique, l'imagination diffluente, l'imagination mystique, l'imagination scientifique, l'imagination pratique et mécanique, l'imagination commercie, l'imagination utopique.
5
Inverted commas will not be used for the unconscious in the rest of the chapter; they are here to make clear that it is neither what one is unaware of at any particular time, nor

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