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Ghostly Spirits - continued...


Already in 1869, a critic mocked: "On the outskirts of the ever-widening circle lighted up by science there is always a border-land wherein superstition holds sway. The arts and sciences may drive away the vulgar hob-goblin of darker days; but they bring with them new sources of illusion. The ghosts of old could only gibber; the spirits of our day can read and write, and play diverse instruments, and quote Shakespeare and Milton. It is not, therefore altogether surprising to learn that they can take photographs also."
In 1848, modern spiritism was born in Hydesville, New York in the house of the Fox family, when spirits began sending their messages through Morse signals and acoustic media. Spirits first became visible in Boston 13 years later. With Mumler's photographs, spirit photography was initiated and soon spread to Europe where it would play an important role within the debates on so-called scientific spiritualism.
Of course electricity also played a crucial role in the context of spiritistic discourse as well as in its practice. Séances took place in which — as in Mesmer's time — all the people present had to build one electrical chain in order to produce the right ethereal atmosphere for the spirits to appear.

Furthermore, spiritistic mediums and their sensitivity were not merely considered in terms of their affinity towards extraordinarily charged oscillations. They were also the predecessors of Duchenne's experiments with hysterical women, said to be the most sensitive mediums, who performed the strangest gestures and mimicked expressions without anyone inducing electricity in them — a hypnotizing look or touch was enough to make them quiver. These women produced their own electricity and their bodies froze in the most extraordinary spiritistic poses. The photographs of their carefully choreographed figures still haunt us today.

Bibliography

Reference: Solhdju, Katrin. 2004. Ghostly Spirits. Three Cases of the Experimentalization of Life and Death in late 19th-Century Science.. The Virtual Laboratory (ISSN 1866-4784), http://vlp.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/references?id=art29&page=p0007