On July 10th, in the context of his recent solo exhibition, largely retrospective, at Haus der Kunst in Munich, Matt Mullican will again perform under hypnosis in front of an audience. With this event in mind, this first entry in my logbook for my Performance in Residence research goes back to the premises of the hypnotic trance, with the intention to give a general but precise account on the contemporary perspective on hypnosis.
* Francois Roustang, Qu’est-ce que l’hypnose?, les éditions de Minuit, 1994/2003
* Leon Chertok and Isabelle Stengers, Hypnose, blessure narcissique, Institut synthelabo, 1999
* Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, ‘in statu nascendi’, Hypnoses, Gallilée, 1984
1/ What is the hypnotic fact?
Francois Roustang in his book on hypnosis provides useful definitions of the hypnotic fact: “Hypnosis is not founded, as is psychoanalysis, on the study of neurosis, hypnosis is not based on any psychopathology and is not seduced by madness, which, we say, is at the source of genius.” (Roustang, 1994:10)
“Hypnosis does not study the human subject for herself, in what we have called her psyche, because hypnosis only considers the person in and through her environment, only in and through her relation to the world; hypnosis is thus no more subjective than objective, no more individual than collective.” (Roustang, 1994:10)
Roustang also reminds us of the key definition of hypnosis provided by Leon Chertok in 1989: “It is a fourth state of the human organism, currently not definable (in opposition to the three other states: wakefulness, sleep, dream): a sort of natural potentiality, an innate apparatus taking its roots as far as the animal hypnosis, characterised by features that apparently send us back to the pre-verbal relationships of the attachment of the child and that occur in situations in which the individual is disturbed in his relations to her environment.” (Roustang, 1994:11)
2/ A paradoxical state of wakefulness
Roustang further defines the hypnotic state as a state of paradoxical wakefulness. He writes: “Hypnosis reveals itself as an increased vigilance capable of taking into account the totality of the parameters of existence, a sort of generalised vigilance that include and overcome a more restraint vigilance that we experience in daily life.”
“It is not the increased intensity of imagination that engenders hypnosis, but rather the hypnotic state, the paradoxical wakefulness, that allows imagination to be deployed in order t transform our relationships with things and human beings.” (Roustang, 1994:14)
3/ The limits of theorization
Hypnosis questions the limits of current models of scientificity. As Leon Chertok and Isabelle Stengers put it: “The singularity of hypnosis is thus that it less a fact waiting for a theory than a fact questioning the position of a judgement on reality that a theory aims at instituting.” (Chertok/Stengers, 1999:3).
This position of hypnosis at the limit of the field of rationality poses an essential problem: “the encounter with a brutal and unintelligible fact [hypnosis] is a dangerous experience that jeopardizes both the intellectual security and the professional status of the researcher.” (Chertok/Stengers, 1999:7) Stengers further notes that “for decades, he [Chertok] struggled for a non-knowledge, a perplexity to be acknowledged.” (Chertok/Stengers, 1999:8)
In his account of the basic premises of hypnosis, Roustang stresses that our modern form of rationality and belief in science “sent back into the occult anything that was not visible and verifiable through the means of experimental sciences.” (Roustang, 1994:9)
The phenomenology of hypnosis disturbs us because it contradicts all our theoretical bodies of knowledge. Our approach to science expects that the process that leads from a question to an answer can be performed in reverse, which means that we should be able to go from the answer back to the initial question in a mechanical and logical fashion. Hypnosis does not allow this reverse process to take place, as there is no logical link between the question and the answer. This somehow irrational relationship disturbs our relationship to the production of knowledge to the point that we cannot find a place for hypnosis within the structure of our knowledge. We find ourselves prisoners of our knowledge, unable to question its very foundations.
4/ A narcissist wound
Freudian psychoanalysis consists of the creation of an experimental process of research. In this context, the impossibility of positioning hypnosis within this scientific apparatus implied the subsequent rejection of hypnosis as a valid therapeutic means.
The rejection of hypnosis is a rejection of the active participation of the therapist. In psychoanalysis, on the contrary, the therapist is considered to occupy a neutral position in regards to the patient.
Through his experiments with hypnosis, Freud started doubting the veracity of the memories of his patients. Hypnosis was gradually considered by Freud as providing an illusion rather than revealing real memories. Thus hypnosis is illusory; it leads to fiction rather than the real events. It is in this context of the impossibility of distinguishing between real events and fantasy that hypnosis is dismissed as a valid therapeutic apparatus. Hypnosis is in that sense a wounding event in the Freudian construction of psychoanalysis as a verifiable theoretical framework.
“When he invented psychoanalysis, Freud created the conditions of the possible production of the event that he desired, the transformation of the patient into a trusting witness of the reasons of his suffering, the placing of the disease to the service of truth, the convergence between the ambition of understanding and the one of curing.” (Chertok/Stengers, 1999:29)
The rejection of hypnosis in the process of foundation of psychoanalysis is the key historical element that allows Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen to further develop the definition of the hypnotic fact. He writes: “Always psychoanalysis has wanted to distinguish itself, differentiates itself, cut the umbilical link and get out of the foetal-hypnotic sleep, in order to finally be itself: autonomous, conscious, lucid and awake.” (Borch-Jacoben, 1984:59)
The narcissistic wound inflicted on psychoanalysis by hypnosis would be, according to Borch-Jacobsen, this impossibility to be born, in an indefinite repetition of the state of the birth. He rhetorically asks: “If analysis was neverending, and as well the transfer, and hypnosis? Psychoanalysis would have never been born. It would still be in the process of being born, endlessly repeating its unachievable birth – the very separation.” (Borch-Jacoben, 1984:63)
5/ The theatre of hypnotic trance
The parallel between theatre and hypnosis, between the patient and the figure of the actor goes beyond the simple metaphor within the discourse on hypnosis.
In Chertok/Stengers, one can read: “Hypnosis constitutes a false witness, that gives fiction for the truth. Worse, it subverts the roles, it transforms the person looking for the truth into an actor, active part in the pathological fiction.” (Chertok/Stengers, 1999:20)
Roustang stresses an important fact about the history of hypnosis; he points to the fact that hypnosis has not only been used in the context of therapy: “Hypnosis knows how to be harmless as well, but nevertheless enigmatic, on the stage where the bodies freeze in the forgetting of themselves, transform themselves into docile automates, feel or gesticulate what is asked of them.” (Roustang, 1994:8). Hypnosis has therefore, from a very early point, entertained a relation to the theatrical stage, used to directly act upon the nature of human gestures, attitudes and movements.
Yet in the very context of a therapeutic dimension of hypnosis, Roustang emphasizes the crucial link between hypnosis and action. Roustang stresses that hypnosis has little to do with revealing the past, on the contrary, according to him, hypnosis “allows to arise in the present unknown potentialities” (Roustang, 1994:10). He further adds: “its practice is thus an intervention, an operation, an action.” (Roustang, 1994:10)
What remains a very enigmatic knot within this context is the question of the origin of the act and the agency of the hypnotized patient. As Roustang writes: “If we insist on the importance of the hypnotic induction and on the processes necessary to its effectuation, we might agree with Bernheim who considered hypnosis as a “learned behaviour”, a “role play”, a “suggested conduct”.” (Roustang, 1994:15)
In this theatre of hypnosis, Borch-Jacobsen points to the figure of the orator, the one who inspires passion and enthusiasm, at the origin of a possible psychic contagion and a certain notion of magnetism. This figure of the orator is the figure of suggestion: “It is here the very secret of the orator or of the dramatic actor, of whom the gestures, the tones of voice inspired by a true passion begun in them, deeply move the souls, master them and make their overall sensitivity vibrate.” (Borch-Jacoben, 1984:64)
Borch-Jacobsen proposes a key question and argument in regards to the relationship between fiction and reality, and the identity of the hypnotized patient, which bring us back into the domain of theatre and masquerade: “Do we have to conclude to a bad faith behaviour of the hypnotized? Is he telling the truth (of an abyssal veracity, it is true) when he affirms: “it was not me”, “I was not me”?” (Borch-Jacoben, 1984:81)
And further in the text: “But who is “he”? Is “he” logical? When dealing with hypnotic trance, this question is crucial. Because who is the person who has lived these events? Was “he” during hypnosis, himself (the same self as himself “awake”)? Or else was “he” an other (“another I”)? From this answer will depend – since proof there is- the way we understand the unconscious. If I choose the first, I make it, like Freud did, an internal difference (my unconscious). But if I choose the second, I open it up (I open myself and I offer myself) to the other – and I loose myself, without reserve.” (Borch-Jacoben, 1984:89)
> Different conceptions of acting and of theatricality emerge here. They will be the ground on which to develop further conceptualizations of the relationships between Mullican’s performance under hypnosis and the field of theatre.
6/ Empathy and relationship to the world
Very early on in the development of Freudian psychoanalysis, Ferenczi was very critical of the notion of neutrality in regards to the relation between the psychoanalyst and his patient. He emphasized the affective dimension of this relation and the role of affection in the success of the therapy.
Chertok/Stengers stress the parallel between empathy and hypnosis in the sense of a restoration of an affective bound, allowing for the integration of previous dissociated experiences.
Chertok/Stengers claim the importance of renouncing the power to judge and the passion to decipher, pleading for a radical change of position of the therapist towards his/her patient, a position allowing a more empathic relationship to the patient. They claim the crucial need to acknowledge that in what we call “psyche”, the knowledge cannot be abstracted from the affective link that is created between the one who knows and the one who is known.
In his account on hypnosis, Roustang dresses a contrast between the individualism central to psychoanalysis and a different perspective at the core of the phenomenon of hypnosis.
Yet Roustang notes that this “individualist mythology” has had an impact on our relation to hypnosis, isolating the hypnotic experience, focussing it on the individual. This limitation of hypnosis to the individual is an obstacle to seize the multiplicity of links that hypnosis reveals. (Roustang, 1994:11-12) Roustang insists on the relation between hypnosis and imagination, emphasizing the potentiality contained in hypnosis, a potentiality, according to him, that is not only individual, but collective, since “it is in this potentiality that is constituted the project of our actions” (Roustang, 1994:15) Hypnosis discloses “a manner of being in the world, a way of positioning oneself within existence, a modality of functioning in the world” (Roustang, 1994:15)
According to Roustang, hypnosis does not act upon our memories, or other superficial aspects of our psyche, but on the organisational structure of our minds, on our broader relationship to the world at large.
7/ Further questions and challenges
“Have we taken the measure of what the idea of knowledge signifies when it has for subject-matter human beings with whom we are entangled in affective relations? Aren’t we prisoners of ideals of knowledge that have guided our exploration of natural phenomena? Aren’t we also prisoners of normative ideals that we have inherited from our moral and rational traditions of philosophy in regards to what should be the relation between human beings and their environment?” (Chertok/Stengers, 1999:48)
A rethinking of hypnosis today appears essential in the context of an exhaustion of the conception of western individualism. A renewed consideration of hypnosis, in Roustang’s terms, would allow us to “find again, starting from this solitary individuality, the connected and continuous ground from which we have cut out this individuality.” (Roustang, 1994:16)