In early 20th century Vienna Robert Musil invited Sigmund Freud to partake in, what he called, “a very special séance”. Seated at the table Musil revealed that they were going to summon the ghost of Frans Anton Mesmer, discoverer of animal magnetism and forefather of hypnosis. Musil told Freud about a series of dreams he had which involved a talking flea. Musil, who had secretly become a follower of the imaginationist school of animal magnetism wanted to question Mesmer as to the meaning of these dreams, in which said flea foretold of impending catastrophes all over Europe. It is said that Mesmer obligingly appeared and spoke in a repetitive and oblique manner. Mesmer’s words were transcribed by Freud in several scraps of paper and hidden separately in a series of objects that, owing to the vicissitudes of history, would end up in the collections of three Viennese museums. Legend has it that he who could piece together the text would find instructions for the assembly of a film.
We visited these museums and, unable to break away the objects from their glass prisons, have made an attempt to reconstruct the film, hoping that the magnetic force inside the objects would transfer to the film’s silver halide crystals, therefore allowing us to make sense of the single written testimony left over from the séance. In her diary, as the lone entry for that date, Eugenie Schwarzwald, the only other known participant, wrote: “A distinguished flea hypnotizes the ghost of a distinguished man.”