Julie Cheminaud, “Stendhal Syndrome: a ‘Schize’”?

Since the work of the psychiatrist G. Magherini, Stendhal syndrome refers to the state of profound disorientation that affects some tourists in the presence of art. My current research aims to re-evaluate the syndrome’s meaning: while G. Magherini explains these apparently psychotic symptoms through recourse to personal complexes, in a psychoanalytic perspective of Freudian obedience, I propose to understand them as a leaving of the self caused by the works themselves, and to see in their pathological appearance a richness. If one considers that aesthetic experience is fortunately abnormal, the difficulty consists then in the reversal of the values of health and disease. Indeed, one can simply say that these experiences only deserve the medical term “syndrome” in the light of a banal, thus deficient, understanding of art. But accounts of the syndrome point to deeply disturbing processes, hallucinations and delusions, in which personality dissolves.

My communication will analyze this difficulty, referring more specifically to the analyzes of Deleuze and Guattari in L’Anti-Œdipe. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari conceive of the value of the schize as an escape, which some works of art can trigger, from the usual frames of existence. Is it possible to understand Stendhal syndrome in this way, by removing the negative character of these experiences, as Deleuze and Guattari do in their use of the term “schize”? In the syndrome, symptoms occur only for a limited time, which would allow us to speak of an altered state. L’Anti-Œdipe, working against psychoanalytic analysis, reverses the diagnosis, because it would rather be our normal, common condition, which would be altered. When it comes to the spectator, is it so easy to consider “madness” in a positive way?


Jean-Christophe Coffin, The Psychiatrist Henri Ey’s Journey Into Consciousness

The psychiatrist Henri Ey (1900-1977) left an important body of work which aimed at reformulating many aspects of his discipline. He thus devoted himself to the study of consciousness, which he continued throughout his professional life, to research on hallucinations, as well as work on dreams and on the processes of creation. Given the large number of pages contained in his various works, I will rely in this paper on only a few texts, especially those which concern artistic production.

The objective will be firstly to introduce them, with the intention of highlighting how Ey worked on the question of creation and the states that accompany it, and how, in doing so, he also revealed the stakes of his research. Altered states are traditionally viewed with circumspection by a wide range of psychiatrists; it will thus be relevant to determine how Henri Ey fits into this tradition or, on the contrary, diverges from it. Insofar as he was firmly committed to the definition of who is delusional and who is not, it seems appropriate to analyze how Ey positions himself with regard to intermediate states: those mysterious moments which are able to withstand the psychiatrist’s sagacity. It will also be question of exploring how the analysis Ey seeks to propose enables him to suggest a reformulation of the limits between the conscious being, and the being who is disorganized in his psychic life.

Finally, I will try to place Ey’s remarks in the context of a psychiatric production which, since the nineteenth century, has been interested in dreamlike states, artistic productions, and altered states. I propose to show how Henri Ey’s specific production on these themes is part of the larger project to redefine the objects of psychiatry and the place of the psychiatrist in the social world.


David Emmanuel Cohen, “‘To Move the Affections’: Natural Philosophical and Medical Theories of the Power of Music to Alter Emotional States, ca. 1600”

The decades around 1600 saw not only revolutionary changes in musical style but also, closely linked therewith, a significant shift in the conceptualization of the essential nature of music itself, and in particular of its principal function or purpose, which now became, far more explicitly and emphatically than before, that of altering the emotional state of the listener—of “moving the affections.” The present paper will report on my continuing efforts to determine with greater precision and clarity just how educated people of that period understood both the physical and/or psychical nature of the emotions themselves—typically characterized as “affections,” “passions,” and with phrases such as “perturbations” and “motions of the soul”—and the mechanisms and processes by which music was held to “move” them, using as evidence contemporary and older but still influential writings on natural philosophy and physiology, medicine, and music, by authors such as Aristotle, Galen, St. Thomas Aquinas, Zarlino, Giulio Cesare Monteverdi, Athanasius Kircher, and Descartes.


Claude-Olivier Doron, “A Grammar of Altered States”

The aim of this talk is to analyze the network of concepts describing the relationship between alteration and altered states in the first half of the nineteenth century. This network, elaborated at the crossroads of medicine, alienism, natural history and anthropology, constitutes what I call a grammar of alteration. In the first part of this talk I will return to the notion of alteration itself, in tension with the notion of alterity, in order to attempt to identify the type of relationship to identity that it implies. I will show how this notion has been used both in medicine and the natural sciences, as well as in moral, philosophical and theological discourses for a very long time. I will show, however, that the beginning of the nineteenth century marks a turning point in this regard, with an effort towards conceptual demarcation on the part of medicine and alienism. In my second part, after clarifying the network of concepts that define this field of alteration—deviation, aberration, perversion, degeneration, etc.—I will concentrate more particularly on the history of two of these notions between the years 1820-1860, which were to be of great importance in the description of altered states in the second half of the nineteenth century namely: “perversion” and “degeneration/ degeneracy.”


Adam Frank, “A Theater of the Mind’s Ear: Gertrude Stein’s Radio”

What “altered states” of mind accompany reading, staging, and writing about Gertrude Stein’s plays? The primary context for this question is my Radio Free Stein project that renders a number of Stein’s plays as recorded musical radio plays or melodramas. A collaboration with several composers, the project is motivated by an attempt to find ways to think with, and to enjoy, these notoriously “difficult” texts. What can a literary critic learn about these modernist plays after undergoing the process of staging them sonically?

This paper will focus on the Radio Free Stein productions of Photograph (recently staged in New York City as part of Daniel Thomas Davis’ SIX.TWENTY.OUTRAGEOUS: Three Gertrude Stein Plays in the Shape of an Opera) and What Happened (to be staged in Paris in spring 2019 with a musical setting by Samuel Vriezen). Using the affect theories of Silvan Tomkins and Wilfred Bion, it will unfold a theory of reading as interoceptive translation, an opening up of a psychical space via the communication inwards of silent reading accompanied by intonational, affective interpretation. Stein’s plays trigger unusually self-reflexive, meditative states that I will juxtapose with composer Robert Ashley’s ideas about the “drone, a non-timeline concept.” What do composers after John Cage already know about Stein’s landscape theater poetics, that is, what do their techniques for treating temporality already know?


Céline Frigau Manning, “Poison, Iron and Fire: Music and Hypnosis in the Narratives of Aïssaoua Performances in the Nineteenth Century”

Far more than a mere fashionable cultural phenomenon, hypnosis throughout the nineteenth century was a veritable culture in itself, eliciting varied debates and demonstrations among practitioners, doctors, scientists and onlookers. In these investigations, music played a crucial role, which has not yet been a focus of study: rather than a mere accompaniment to spectacular experiments, music gave rise to specific questions.

In this epistemological framework, the case of the Aïssaoua—which at the time was the focus of much critical, narrative and spectacular interest—is representative. The followers of the Aïssaoua brotherhood, founded in Morocco in the 15th century, shocked many Europeans who traveled or settled in colonial Maghreb, as well as spectators at the Expositions universelles in Paris in 1867 and 1889. “To the sounds of the Arabian drum and iron castanets,” observes Dr. Bernheim in 1891, “they prepare themselves by rhythmic movements of the head and torso, by guttural sounds modulated according to the musical rhythm, and by violent and disordered contortions. They thus become insensible, swallow crushed glass, pierce their cheeks with sharp blades, walk on red-hot bars.” For Bernheim, this is “ecstatic and anesthetic” hypnosis. The hypothesis is controversial and constitutes a challenge for the science of the time: what is really happening? What is simulated and what is true? Is this a passive trance which, transmitted mainly by music, is imposed on a subject, or an active trance, led by the individual who engages in it? The study of various sources—personal narratives, general and specialized press, medical and scientific writings, literary texts—can shed light on these debates, and on contemporary accounts which foreground the risk of contagion which these scenes of altered states represent for those who seek to account for them.


Rishi Goyal, “The Consciousness of Coma”

The central experience that motivates the narrator of Tom McCarthy’s novel Remainder, a coma following a collision with a falling object, remains completely unavailable to him: “It’s a blank: a white slate, a black hole.” What follows is a series of repeating circuits that reframe Freud’s repetition compulsion (which is intimately tied to his description of the death drive) as a neurocognitive understanding of consciousness. In my paper, I will explore coma from four encircled positions: politics, neuroscience, psychoanalysis and narrative.

The political analysis of the state of coma allows us to restore or relocate the subject in the spaces between absences. If a comatose patient enters into “a space of exception inhabited by bare life” (Agamben), life and death are not properly scientific but political boundaries. Can there be a psychoanalysis of the comatose subject of the state of exception? Given the prominence of the hypothesis of the unconsciousness to psychoanalysis, can we think of the cerebral suffering of the comatose patient as an example of Catherine Malabou’s, “New Wounded”, persons with suffering brains that have been ignored by both philosophy and psychoanalysis? And can the consciousness of coma provide a bridge between psychoanalysis and neuroscience?

I would like to develop these and other questions by thinking through the politics, aesthetics and epistemology of coma. The unthought or unthinkable experience of coma at the outset of McCarthy’s novel is a narrative failure that will hopefully allow us to explore the altered state of coma.


Rachel Greenwald Smith, “Altered by Force: Affect, Literary Form, and Authority”

 This paper will return to a question that has haunted scholars interested in how literature might directly alter the bodies of readers: how to reckon with the historical relationship between attempts to use art as a vehicle for radical change and the violence that tends to be associated with such attempts. As Maggie Nelson has argued, the very artworks that seem most interested in intervening upon life directly also tend to envision their interventions as a form of cruelty. If we are interested in how art can produce altered states, then we also need to grapple, this paper suggests, with the problem of cruelty, violence, and authority.

We have recently seen the emergence of new work in literary theory that is interested in how literary form might directly intervene in the open, anything-goes quality of contemporary capitalism by highlighting the existence of structural limitation. These theories imagine that form might act as a kind of benevolent authority, structuring affective experience at a time when the individual seems to be running amok. Recent literary works such as Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo also seem to imagine for themselves such powers of forceful shaping. But Rankine and Saunders perform an awareness of the danger of the legacy of the relationship between the imagination that art might force altered states in its readers and authoritarianism, explicitly linking their work to a history of fascism, policing, and war. This paper will argue that in the renewed interest in force, form, and altered states in contemporary literary theory and literature alike, we are seeing a reckoning with the coincidence of two seemingly opposed political logics: neoliberal capitalism on the one hand and authoritarianism on the other.


Sarah Hibberd, “Divine Transport at the Paris Opéra: From La Création du monde to La Mort d’Adam”

During the 1790s, the ‘sublime’ experience of revolution was made manifest in Cherubini’s operas for the Théâtre Feydeau in cataclysmic tableaux of destruction. Critics reported how the overwhelming audio-visual spectacle transported audiences to another, higher, realm. Cherubini’s musical rhetoric – repeating and sequencing fragments, obsessive rhythms, and dynamic contrasts – generated a surface energy that obscured the overall structure and overwhelmed the listener. Such techniques and their effect were adumbrated in Johann Georg Sulzer’s theorisation of the musical sublime in 1801.

Nevertheless, when Haydn’s widely acknowledged ‘sublime oeuvre’ The Creation was premiered (in French translation) at the Paris Opéra on 24 December 1800, its reception betrayed the clash of two very different national models of the musical sublime. Although it was widely admired (and the orchestra famously erupted in spontaneous enthusiasm at the final rehearsal), many found it boring and in need of staged action. Nine years later, Le Sueur’s tragédie lyrique La mort d’Adam was received as a sort of sequel (and corrective) to The Creation.

This paper focuses on the ‘transport’ of the audience in the climactic scene of Adam’s apotheosis, understood in the light of earlier musical expressions of the sublime. I – like contemporary critics – ask what constituted a ‘transformative’ experience in the theatre at this time. I identify associations made between aesthetic and political aims, sacred and secular subject matter, and visual and aural effects. Ultimately, I argue that La mort d’Adam is a revealing step in the development of sublime experience in the theatre, from the revolutionary tableaux at the Feydeau to the apocalyptic denouements of grand operas of the July Monarchy. Indeed, it sheds new light on the sublime’s transformation as an aesthetic category during the Empire.


Mireille Losco-Lena, “Hypnotic: a New Aesthetic Category for the Theater?”

In recent years, the adjective “hypnotic” has been increasingly used by theater critics to describe certain shows (Castellucci, Mc Burney…) and by several artists of the stage (Joris Mathieu, Valere Novarina, Joris Lacoste…), to the point that one may wonder if it is indeed becoming a new aesthetic category. If this category has contours which are still poorly defined, and is far from constituting a stable concept, we can note that there is nevertheless a general consensus concerning it, and above all that it is highly valued. I thus propose in this paper to question the shifts of the contemporary theatrical sensibility that such a valuation assumes, and especially the break with the Brechtian idea—long dominant in the 20th century—according to which the hypnosis of the theatrical audience would be a fundamentally negative state of passivity. According to this conception, it would thus be the symptom of an alienation that must be opposed, while also presuming that a good spectator is necessarily an awake, attentive, and critical one. I will examine how the contemporary stage entirely displaces the Brechtian perspective and redistributes this question’s data: hypnotic experience appears today less as a form of regression, for both theater and spectator, than a promise of openness or awakening. What the theater invites us to think about, then, is the possibility of an emancipation of the spectator which would no longer be achieved by critical reason, but by what François Roustang has called “the power to dream”. Finally, it will be clear that such a redistribution of the theater’s critical and emancipatory stakes is not without ties to the contemporary redefinition of hypnosis and the reinvention of hypnotic therapeutic practices since Milton Erickson.

My reflections will largely make use of the research carried out within the research-creation program that I have led at the ENSATT since 2016, in collaboration with researchers, doctoral students, artists and hypnotherapists. The blog of this research program, led by Adeline Thulard, Pierre Causse, Manon Worms and Pauline Picot, is available here: https://hypnoscene.hypotheses.org/


Carmel Raz, “Talking to the Hand: The ‘Hysterical Epistemology’ of the Migrating Sensorium”

Nineteenth-century European medical texts abound with reports of patients allegedly seeing, tasting, smelling, or hearing by means of their internal organs or extremities. First described by Jacques-Henri-Désiré Pétetin in 1805, reports of transposed sensory capacities became a regular feature of medical accounts of hysteria and catalepsy. In such cases, patients indicated that some or all of their senses had been relocated to a new part of their body, and that this limb or organ alone was capable of perception. The tenacious grip of Pétetin’s case history on the nineteenth-century medical imagination is startling, as is the fact that the condition persisted for over a century in the face of repeated debunking. As late as 1909, Cesare Lombroso described a case of sensory transposition in terms that were nearly identical to Pétetin’s original symptomology.

This paper seeks to understand the persistence of Pétetin’s claim that the relationship between the mind, body, and loci of sensation could be fundamentally altered in light of the broader stakes of the migrating sensorium. I argue that the prominent role of hearing in Pétetin’s diagnosis and its reception suggests that the very possibility of the condition enacted an implicit desire for an alternative epistemology of the senses, one in which audition took precedence over vision, female over male, patient over physician. Taking this “hysterical epistemology” seriously, I propose, allows us to investigate the extent to which the immersive experience of sound represented a viable position from which to imagine how the senses might transform and wander in the context of contemporary debates over attention. Recovering the importance of listening and attending in the emergence of an enduring mental disorder thus reveals the centrality of sound to understandings of the potential of the senses to convey altered states in nineteenth-century medical practice.



Anne Whitehead, “Empathy and Ecology: Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris”

Philosopher Michael Marder (2012) has recently declared the life of plants to lie at the limits of empathy. Inspired by neurobotany, literary critic John Charles Ryan (2018) begs to differ, arguing that bioempathy is based in existing corporeal resonances between human and plant. My own recent work on empathy (2017) has drawn on feminist theory to critique the dominant economic model of empathy, based in the assumption that it is what one has/lacks, and that it is a necessary good that needs to be cultivated (in the present discussion, for a more effective environmental politics). Instead, I have argued, we could productively ask what empathy does, how it circulates and/or sticks, and whether other affective qualities such as irony or distance might also come into the frame.

Through a reading of Louise Glück’s poem cycle The Wild Iris (1992), I open up the question of how mind, body and aesthetics might productively connect to environmental concerns via the botanical. I argue that the model of empathy, which premises an affective transformation in the subject based on commonality, is not a helpful basis for an ethics of vegetal life. Instead, I introduce the idea of an affective ecology; across the poem cycle, Glück continually shifts across speakers, moods and tones, and does not offer the stability of any one position with which to identify. In formal terms, then, the cycle purposefully withdraws the means by which, through absorption in its subject, the reader might reach an altered state of empathetic recognition.

More than this, I argue, Glück critiques the very notion of the altered state as a basis for the aesthetic project, drawing on the myth of narcissus – which is, notably, also a narrative of the botanical – to argue that the stability and fixity of the object of recognition is necessarily an illusion, and a potentially deadly one at that. This paper concludes by asking whether Glück’s aesthetic model, based in mobility and flux, offers a constructive alternative to empathy in thinking about the human-plant relation, and what its implications might be in terms of (re)conceptualising our understanding of how we relate to, and are positioned within, our environments.