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Animal Magnetism, Affective Influence, and Moral Dressage

Animal Magnetism, Affective Influence, and Moral Dressage

(p.156) Chapter Seven Animal Magnetism, Affective Influence, and Moral Dressage
Precarious Partners
Kari Weil
University of Chicago Press

The notion of animal magnetism takes us back to Anton Mesmer in the eighteenth century, whose fame for curing illness with the mere “pass” of a hand quickly turned to infamy under the anti-materialist sentiments of the nineteenth century. And yet, as this chapter suggests, traces of the magnetic force of bodies reappear in works from Madame Bovary to Germinal and, bear seeds of the very intersections between affect and animality that are theorized today. Indeed, it was during the Third Republic that theories of magnetic or hypnotic influence would contribute to Gustave Le Bon’s understandings of crowd theory—also known as herd theory- which emphasized the instinctive animality of human nature in order to lend support to new forms of political control over the unruly and brutish masses. Whereas the first animal to be magnetized was a horse in Lyons in 1784, horses figure prominently in the fin-de-siècle as a means for showing the importance of a scientific understanding of unconscious or affective influence, and how that influence can also serve to educate the masses, whether against or in service of the state.

Keywords:   animal magnetism, influence, affects, crowds, Zola, Le Bon

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