“Autopsy of ghosts, a story of the supernatural” by Philippe Charlier: an explosive story of spiritualism where the spirit is there

1. One of the great qualities of the text is without doubt the change of scenery it conveys. Of course, the author is quick to warn us: “We don’t expect to know, after reading this book, whether ghosts really exist”. But, from the first pages, we enter a parallel world. Strange beliefs that seem obvious to a few insiders, a history so little recorded, traditions based on a precise or hazy doctrine, deceptions (which the author deciphers) and the mysteries of an unknown art: the opportunity to lose your landmarks here is rare and delicious. We discover beings who marked their time, represented a hope and a fascination that they often took with them. In addition to Allan Kardec, personalities such as Madge Gill, an ultra-verbose quasi-blind painter guided by the spirit of her missing daughter, or “François-Joseph Crépin, in turn plumber-zinc worker, musician and healer-dowser” are at they alone are novel characters.

2. More than a chronology of spiritualism, this ambitious book is a reflection on its deep roots. Those who defy science, puritanism, cling to the sweet thrill of fear, seek to go “to infinity and beyond”. Wanting to communicate with those whom life has exiled means recognizing that attachment resides above all in memory, fantasy (whose etymology is linked to that of the word “ghost”), the very idea that we have made ourselves of a being who cannot die, because his life, loved too much, no longer belongs to him. This means that the common limits are only there to be exceeded. This means that forgetting is unacceptable, because it records the disappearance of others and especially of oneself. That is to say that there is perhaps nothing, deep down, but this mad, hypermnesic love, the one which refuses all compromise, which cannot bear the lukewarmness of renunciation, which prefers to flee into a world of memories that no one can stain.

3. The writing and structure of the book are skillful and engaging. Carried by a clear, elegant pen, the text is punctuated by several small chapters, like so many short stories that reveal the stages, figures and materials of its history. In the appendix, a text from 1937, entitled “Anthology of Spiritism”, allows us to situate ourselves in the context of the queen period of this practice. In addition, we like the freedom of tone of the author, who seems to appreciate somewhat cavalier puns. We also like his meticulousness as a good student, his concern to give many references, mainly with the help of endnotes that do not interfere with reading, which can be abandoned or explored as he pleases.

4. The title of the book Autopsy of ghosts reveals Philippe Charlier’s approach: to understand the phenomenon of spiritualism “with the dual eyes of a doctor and an anthropologist”. But his gaze is not only double. Firstly because it is also that of a lover of painting, photography, theology, philosophy, literature, as if all material were for him the terrain of an essential game. Perhaps also because, to establish his story and transmit it with the pride of a teacher who enlightens and affirms, he will first listen patiently, with the humility of a disciple, to those who hold the keys to it. . We admire the guts of the guy, launched into conversations as serious as they are surreal, with improbable characters. In this sense, the scene of the interview with the priest of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet on Purgatory, tinged with self-mockery, is quite irresistible. It would be quite tempting to link the book to the journey of its author, who makes one dizzy with its variety, as if he had taken several lives in his own, as if nothing was more unbearable to him than a long sleep. Be that as it may, he manages to share his insatiable curiosity with rare generosity.

“Autopsy of ghosts, a story of the supernatural” by Philippe Charlier: an explosive story of spiritualism where the spirit is there