A Big Tree

I’m going to be honest with you, I have been complaining about being a little burned out, but believe me, there’s nothing like the burnout you feel after being the sole blogger at a place where it feels like most of the people who read it at the least resent that you’re the only person blogging, if not straight-up hate you.

I spent last evening in some kind of weird haze, watching Ghost Hunters and still slowly working through my book. My weird pseudo rash is spreading and it itches. I think it may just be nerves. Anyway, in my book, we’re now to the part of the 19th century when animal magnetism has really taken hold. This is one of those moments where you’re just speeding along all like “I know what those words mean, no need to slow down!” and all of a sudden, you find yourself reading about liquids and sympathies and I’m like “I know these words. I have no idea what these sentences mean.” But I think the gist is that before there was hypnotism, there was animal magnetism. So, there’s this phenomenon, where a person can be put in an altered state, and that phenomenon, along with a whole set of conventions and explanations, was called animal magnetism and then, in response, later, that phenomenon, with a different set of conventions and explanations was called hypnotism.

If she explains it, I missed it, but I think the deal is that we’re still at a period of time where the existence of a soul isn’t really up for discussion. Of course there is one. But religion and science had very different explanations and ideas about them. And science had this idea of the “animal soul” which is kind of, sort of, along the same lines of what we think of as (sub)consciousness (it seems to me to be a little like what we consider consciousness and a little like what we relegate to the subconsciousness, but basically, I think we’d think of it as the things our brains do when they’re not actively deliberately thinking thoughts–that’s the animal soul).  So, animal magnetism, I think, is basically finding a way to activate and put the animal soul in control of the body, in this case, through magnetism, which in some cases seems to have meant actual magnets [fucking magnets, how do they work?–icp] and in other cases just seems to have meant the principle of like attracts like.

But I’m not sure, so if Bridgett doesn’t see this, I may have to bug her about it via email. I just finished up with the part of the book that is about how Methodists moved their more ecstatic religious experiences out of the church service and into the camp meeting. It was another one of those “aha!” moments for me, as I understood just how it was that we could have ended up with this kind of rich, unspoken heritage. But I tell you what, that part of the book definitely makes me want to get my hands on a hymnal and look at those old hymns. I feel like I have a much better idea of what they meant at a vernacular level now. Sadly, my old hymnal died in the flood.

Ugh. Sorry, my brain is still not working quite right. This was supposed to be a brief post about this tree that I saw when I was out walking the dog. I took a picture of it. You can see it sitting there, enormous, on the top of that hill. Obviously, it’s been there for many years, but this was the first time I noticed it–just one prickly nipple on just one small breast of the world.

We walked very slowly because I was tired and I was only on the walk at first because I knew I’d feel like crap today if I didn’t walk. And then we walked slowly because I could not resist just drinking it all in. I don’t remember a November so beautiful. The trees may not have been that great this year, but the colors in the brush have been so soft and subtle and vibrant that it’s hard to not linger.

2 thoughts on “A Big Tree

  1. Bridgett’s brain is not in service either at the moment. Let me get some sleep and I’ll get back to you tomorrow on this. However, you can Google the phrase “malicious animal magnetism” or look at early Christian Science literature (in which Eddy propounds some theories about the slippery plasma-like invisible fluid that binds us each to all and how bad thoughts projected from one person can have physical effects on someone else) to get one take on this.

    I think that there was probably some leakage among Methodists, Spiritualists, and Transcendalists — seems like what they grabbing toward is what Emerson might have referred to as an Oversoul. Emily Ogden (PhD, English, UPenn, 2010) just wrote a handy dissertation examining literary treatments of the “science and the soul” debate. Her diss is titled “The Science of Error: Mesmerism and American Fiction, 1784-1890.” Heard nothing but good things about this one, so maybe ILL it or get it through UMI?

  2. That’s one of the really good things about this book, I think, is how careful she is to show that there’s this thing and sometimes religions treated it in a religious context and then, like in the case of the Methodists, the ministers got tired of competing with it, so it was removed from formal worship and as it lost religious prominence, it gained in scientific.

    It’s really interesting.

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