December 2014 By Luis S R Vaz Trance-Migrations: Stories of India, Tales of Hypnosis by Lee Siegel,University of Chicago, Paperback, INR 176 This experimental work by Siegel, who has earlier written on Indian conjurers inNet of Magic, combines nonfiction and fiction in an attempt to tell the tale of hypnosis’ relation to India and to hypnotically induce a vivid experience for those who take part in the author’s experiment. Trance-Migrations: Stories of India, Tales of Hypnosis by Lee Siegel The short stories interspersed among the factual narratives are meant to be read aloud to a listener, who, it is hoped, will enter into a somewhat hypnotic state and thereby have a more vibrant interaction with the tales. The nonfiction passages describe Siegel’s childhood fascination with hypnotism; his journeys and encounters as he researches this work; and sections on the Abbé Faria (1756–1819), the Goan-born European hypnotist sensation, and James Esdaile (1808–1859), a Scottish-born surgeon who employed hypnosis as anesthesia in Bengal. Prof Siegel was in Goa a while back to do research for the book and imagined Abbe Faria as a child in the late 18th century, following him imaginatively to Portugal, Rome and France, and interpreting his life and achievements with various degrees of plausibility. He met everyone who had done any work on him and even pretended to be a hypnotist giving two bogus performances at the Casa da Moeda and at the Goa International Centre. The result is an intriguing, informative, and hilarious account that will make the Indian hypnotist better known among those who had only vaguely heard of him. Trance-migrations is a thoroughly original and creative experiment in meta fiction. It alternates sections containing stories to be read by the reader to himself with sections of stories to be read aloud to a listener. In the latter cases Siegel intends that the listener actually go into a hypnotic trance out of which the reader will eventually awaken her or him. In this way the narrative “performs” a hypnosis out of which the listener awakens to find that it is impossible to tell what “really” happened, just as in hypnosis the line between fact and fiction is irremediably blurred. Siegel uses hypnosis and the dynamic between hypnotist and hypnotised as a way of exploring other power dynamics – between lovers, between writer and reader (or listener), between God and mortals, and ultimately between memory and constantly shifting meaning. The book is, above all, about reading as a hypnotic experience. -Luis S. R. Vaz
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