THE WIZARD FROM VIENNA: Franz Anton Mesmer by Vincent Buranelli


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Mesmer has always been one of those marginal, quackish figures--the regalia for his seances included a wand and a purple silk cloak--claimed by both the scientists and the occultists. Buranelli is among those who see him as a figure of unique importance in the history of science: ""the Columbus of modern psychiatry,"" who like Freud stumbled onto the unconscious and became one of the first to treat hysteria, depression, paralysis and psychosomatic blindness. He was a very characteristic Enlightenment figure--argumentative, worldly, humane. Indeed, the parallels with Freud, that other Viennese doctor, are many and amply exploited by Buranelli. Mesmer, like Freud, had his ""Anna O.""; like Freud Mesmer quickly acquired a claque of wayward disciples. No sooner had Mesmerism been born than there were ideological schisms. Freud had his Jung; Mesmer had his Deslon. A fashionable medical practitioner, a patron of Mozart, Mesmer was ostracized by the respectable scientific opinion of the day for his idee fixe--""animal magnetism,"" a convoluted theory which rested on the ""ebb and flow"" of a universal fluid. Buranelli argues that Mesmer's real mistake was to insist that his psychological discoveries were firmly anchored in Newtonian physics. Also he believed he was a magnet. Mesmer's cures (every one merely made him more notorious) proceeded via a ""crisis""--an induced intensification of the patient's symptoms--through a ""trance"" to the healing which, Mesmer insisted, was radically different from faith healing. Though Mesmer himself became progressively wackier as his discovery was denied recognition, Buranelli has gone a long distance in rescuing him from the bell-book-and-candle crowd. A better book all around than Wyckoff's Franz Anton Mesmer (p. 771) which tried to have it both ways.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan