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Showing posts from August 14, 2022

From Poyen to Hitchcock - for a mesmeric history of the new world

Alexis de Tocqueville landed in America in May, 1831 and spent nine months there; out of that experience he wrote Democracy in America and became famous. Charles Poyen never quite became famous, and is now utterly forgotten. He came to America by a convoluted journey worthy of a Greek hero – his itinerary was littered with omens, pronounced by somnambulists. He consulted a somnambulist, Madame Villetard, in Paris, looking for a cure for a chronic pain he suffered from. Her remarkable knowledge of his disease- which, we are assured in his memoir, The Progress of Animal Magnetism in New England, was not altogether beyond Poyen’s own comprehension, since he was a medical student – led him to ask her about his proposed journey to Guadaloup, where part of his family resided, apparently as plantation owners. Madame Villetard gave her approval, so off our hero went, to convalesce and further explore the mysteries of somnambulism. He did so, using some ‘colored servants’ as subjects, and provi

the geography of lost

  There's the geography of maps, where the objects are a town, a river, a mountain, and then there is the subjective map, where the objects are all object-events: getting lost, coming home, being-in-a-strange-apartment. The subjective map has a very different scale - it measures not inches, miles, or kilometers, but uniqueness and repetitions. For instance, the geography of getting lost depends upon its position in the scale of encounters with a place - getting lost in the same place the second time is a harder thing to do, and eventually, if you keep coming back, you aren't lost at all and the lostness that you once experienced seems like a dream. There is a vital connection between this dreaminess and adventure. Simmel wrote that adventure cuts itself off from normal life and is recalled as a kind of dream – but what kind? Lostness, I think, is the condition of adventure. In ordinary life, we often talk about what we are “like”. If I lose, say, my wallet, I may say, I always