In the late nineteenth century, scientists, psychiatrists, and medical practitioners began employing a new experimental technique for the study of neuroses: hypnotism. Though their efforts to transform hypnosis into a laboratory science failed, soon thereafter Sigmund Freud took up the heritage of hypnotism when establishing psychoanalysis. In Sites of the Unconscious, Andreas Mayer examines the relationship between hypnosis and psychoanalysis, showing how the theories and experimental techniques of hypnosis paved the way for the familiar psychoanalytic setting established by Freud. Mayer analyzes Jean-Martin Charcot's research program in Paris and the so-called Nancy school led by Hippolyte Bernheim, stressing their divergent views on the relation between clinical practice and knowledge and their different ways of deploying hypnosis. Mayer then reconstructs the reception of French hypnotism in German-speaking countries, arguing that Freud's abandonment of hypnosis and subsequent development of the psychoanalytic setting was less a flash of singular genius than a fitting response to the issues raised by the French controversies.
In addition, Mayer addresses the distinctive features of Freud's psychoanalytic setting, revealing how Freud's couch emerged out of the clinical laboratories and private consulting rooms of the practitioners of hypnosis.
Andreas Mayer is a research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. He is coauthor of Dreaming By the Book. Christopher Barber's recent translations include Freud Verbatim and The Secession Talks.