Mireille Cifali

Professor at the University of Geneva, Faculty of Psychology and the Science of Education, Geneva, Switzerland. Has written "Freud et la pédagogie" (with Franci Imbert), "Lien éducatif: contre-jour psychanalytique", "Théodore Flournoy, la decouverte de l'inconscient" in Notes De la psychoanalyse, 3, 1983, 111-131; and "Une glossolale et ses savants: Élise Müller alias Hélène Smith, La linguistique fantastique" in Clims-Denoe, 1, 1985, 236-244.

The Making of Martian: The Creation of an Imaginary Language

- Mireille Cifali -

          IN 1900 a work appeared, From India to the Planet Mars[1], stirring the spiritist milieu at the start of the century and capturing the attention of some scholars interested in psychology and linguistics. It was written by a Genevan, the doctor and psychologist Théodore Flournoy[2], with a subtitle that indicates more precisely its contents: "A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia."

[1] T. Flournoy, Des Indes à la Planète Mars (Paris: Seuil, 1983) [new edition].
[2] See M. Cifali, "Théodore Flournoy, la découverte de I'inconscient," in Le Bloc-Notes de la psychanalyse 3 (1983): pp. 111-31; "Les chiffres de l'intime" (postface) in Flournoy, Des Indes, pp. 371-85.

Catherine Élise Müller - named Hélène Smith in this work - said to be glossolalic, considers herself to be a medium capable of conversing with the dead. She pretends to have been, in a previous life, a princess of ancient India with the name of Simadini and married to prince Sivrouka, sensibly reincarnated in the person of Théodore Flournoy. Moreover she knows how to speak Sanskrit and proves it by pronouncing it before an audience of credulous admirers and incredulous examiners. She was also Marie-Antoinette and speaks a royal French. But above all, perniciously, she has the privilege of transferring herself onto distant planets from which she brings back the language of the inhabitants, notably Martian.

Théodore Flournoy, the psychologist, and eminent linguists - Ferdinand de Saussure for example - were struck by the linguistic marvels that Élise Müller produced. They scrutinized with the greatest care the linguistic corpus furnished by the young lady. Their results were recorded in From India to the Planet Mars. Did Élise know Sanskrit - she who had not studied? Certain people confirmed it. But must one then believe in the immortality of the soul and in the reality of the phenomenon of reincarnation? The Martian language that she claimed to know, could she not just have made it up? How would she go about it? We could take recourse to this book and, from the glossolalic text, seek to provide further interpretations. A modern linguist might without any doubt find in it various linguistic curiosities[3]. Such, however, is not our purpose.

[3] See for example M. Yaguello, Lunatic Lovers of Language: Imaginary Languages and their Inventors, trans. C. Slater (London: Athlone Press, 1991).

Auguste Lemaître is one of the principal participants in the mediumistic séances convened around Élise Müller, whom he calls "my" medium. It is he who draws up the records of each of the séances when they are held at his residence, and who copiously writes them out with his school-masterish handwriting in exercise books. The records, which we have had the luck to retrieve at the descendants' of Lemaître, are a literal account of the séances[4]. They are signed each time by all the participants. Flournoy used them to construct his book, but he never published them as such. He merely provides summaries and only extracts certain passages useful to his argument.

[4] Private archives of the descendants of A. Lemaître, Geneva.

We now have the complete text of around sixty séances spread very unevenly between October 24, 1894 and May 18, 1901: two hundred and sixty pages in seven notebooks. As regards the meetings that took place in Théodore Flournoy's apartment and from which he made records, we unfortunately have not discovered the slightest trace. This is so much the more regrettable since it was at these meetings that Élise Müller spoke Sanskrit in the presence of Ferdinand de Saussure, who had been invited for the occasion.

We have studied the records of Auguste Lemaître for a long time in an attempt to understand the reconstruction carried out by Théodore Flournoy throughout the writing of his work. It seemed important to us to reconsider the question of the Martian language, not so as to restore the text, but in order to determine the conditions of its enunciation. It will be, we hope, from another vantage point that we shall be able to reveal the procedure which permitted the fabrication of Martian. The present approach in no way renders null and void the study of the Martian articulation undertaken by Flournoy or by the linguist Victor Henry;[5] it Simply wishes to recreate the theatre that saw it take place and unfold.

[5] V. Henry, Le langage martien (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1901).

On Mars

The Martian adventure begins on November 25, 1894 - with an important detail: Théodore Flournoy does not yet figure among the participants in this séance, from which the following extract is taken:

From the beginning, Melle. Müller senses a vivid gleam at a distance, high up. Then she feels a swinging that goes to her head after which it seems to her as if her head is empty and that she no longer has a body. She finds herself in a thick fog which changes gradually from blue to bright pink and then to grey and black. She floats, she says; and the table resting on only a single leg begins to take on a very strange floating movement, like whorls constantly repeating the same turning. Then Mlle. Müller sees a star that continually grows and grows and becomes "larger than our house." Melle. Müller feels that it rises. Then the table conveys through spelling:

- Lemaître, this is what you would like so much!

Melle Müller who was ill at ease feels better. She discerns three enormous spheres, of which one is very beautiful. "What is it that I walk on?" she asks herself and the table answers, On land. Mars. (Laughing): "How funny, these cars! Hardly any horses or people that are on the move. Imagine different kinds of armchairs that slide but don't have wheels. It is the tiny wheels that produce the sparks. People sit in their armchairs. Some of them, the larger ones, hold four to five people. To the right of the armchairs a kind of handle stick is at tached, fitted with a button that one presses with the thumb to put the vehicle in motion. There are no rails. One also sees the people walking. They are built like us and hold onto each other with the little finger. The clothing is the same for both sexes: a long blouse tight around the waist, very large trousers, shoes with very thick soles, no heel and of the same colour as the rest of the outfit which is in shammy, white with black designs."

Thus begins the Martian voyage. Lemaître does not know "how to explain" Élise's first words: "Lemaître, this is what you would like so much." Someone reminds him of a conversation during the summer of 1893, in the course of which he is supposed to have said: It would be very interesting to know what happens on other planets!" And here it is granted: If this is the response to the wish of last year ... then well and good!" he rejoices. One must note that all his listeners at that moment are given over to the spiritual powers of Élise Müller Moreover she provides what is expected, i.e., to see, hear and explore. She excels in painting with words. The text of the séance continues. It is a kind of canvas Élise Müller paints before a blind public.

Théodore Flournoy gains admission to the séances on December 9, 1894 and his presence transforms their style as well as the minutes. The new reporter constantly breaks the thread with his countless suggestions. Élise's monologue is interrupted by the incessant questioning that names and determines the answers. Another change due to the presence of Flournoy: the Martian visions are suspended for fifteen months. It is only on February 2, 1896 that the traveller resumes her voyage, a fact for which Flournoy provides two possible explanations. Firstly he holds himself to be the involuntary cause-the Hindu romance in which he plays an essential role having completely occupied the spirit of Élise Müller. In the second place, he invokes "a period of latent incubation necessary for the perfection of the Martian dream and for the preparation of the new language which was to reveal itself".[6]

[6] This volume, p. 295.

These two explanations are plausible. But one needs to spell out that the birth of Martian follows the "battle" that was joined around Sanskrit, the language of the transference,[7] which allowed Élise to converse passionately with Sivrouka-Flournoy. The distinguished scholars, gathered to determine whether this is really Sanskrit, doubt its purity. Élise does not fail to take notice. Hence the hypothesis that she takes recourse to Martian as a new linguistic marvel. Besides, she has discovered that the scholars are particularly interested in the production of language. The advent of Martian is in some way the response to their scientific interest.

[7] See M. Cifali, "Une glossolalic et ses savants: Élise Müller alias Hélène Smith," in La linguistique fantastique (Paris: Clims-Denoel, 1985), pp. 236-44.

Is it Hungarian?

Between November 25, 1894 and February 2, 1897 - the date of the first Martian words - Élise Müller above all speaks Sanskrit, above all in the course of her Hindu "romance." We do not have in our possession the records of the séances that would allow us to know which questions were put to her and which commands were addressed to her, so we can only infer from two sources: the work of Flournoy and an article which Lemaître wrote in 1897.[8]

[8] A. Lemaître, "Contribution a l'etude des phenomenes psychiques," in Annales des sciences psychiques 7 (1897): pp. 65-88.

By comparing the two linguistic productions, Flournoy proposes the following: "The nature of Hélène's Hindu language," he writes, 'Is less easy to bring to clarity than that of Martian, for it has never been possible to obtain neither a literal translation nor written texts of it." And he continued by another route, abashed:

There is not even left to me the resource of placing the parts of the process as a whole before the reader, as I have done in the case of the Martian, for the reason that our ignorance of Hélène's Hindu, added to her rapid and indistinct pronunciation - a real prattle some times - has caused us to lose the greater part of the numerous words heard in the course of some thirty Oriental scenes scattered over a space of four years.[9]

[9] This volume, above, pp. 193-194.

These few words cause us to think, without great risk of being mistaken, that Hélène-Élise is pressured to translate and write, but that she resists it, that she is urged to pronounce with care in order to facilitate a transcription, known to be difficult.

Auguste Lemaître speaking of his medium - we emphasize the use of the masculine gender[10] - never cites the name, and much less does he indicate that it is a woman. Of the Sanskrit which she speaks, he also points out its basically melodic nature:

[10] [Son médium, médium being masculine in French. -Trans.]

There were also incarnations and sayings pronounced in a language similar to Sanskrit, with a melodious accent, which permits me to contend that had Greek not existed, then Sanskrit would have been the most beautiful language ever to have come from human lips.[11]

[11] Lemaître, "Contribution," p. 83.

Élise's prowess to which he bears witness to the reader does not fail to amaze:

Try, you who have learned foreign or ancient languages, try to learn Sanskrit and to speak it, try above all to place the accent, the harmonious intonation which characterizes it, then apply yourselves to acquire it with no wavering, with volubility. Well! The medium from whose mouth these amazing words flowed, like as many pearls, had no knowledge at all of languages, it had never been taught the Greek and Latin roots, and still less those of Sanskrit.[12]

[12] Ibid.

There is, however, no doubt that the entire Hindu romance feeds on the play of questions and answers into which Élise is dragged. Here is a brief example of it to do with the séance of March 10, 1885. The meeting began at 8 p. m., and it is now 9:15.

Mademoiselle gets up. Will she go towards Flournoy? (Always the little finger:) Yes. Must Flournoy get on the sofa? Yes. M. Flournoy sits there. Does Mademoiselle see the funeral pyre? Yes. She walks backwards in the direction of the dining room door. Is Mademoiselle on the verge of a precipice? No. Are men there, like the other day, that push her towards the pyre? Yes. Is it the messieurs present here? No. M. Flournoy: Can 1 go to meet her in order to protect her? No reply. Is there a body on the funeral pyre? Yes. Is it lit? No. Will it be so soon? Yes. Will the widow throw herself onto it? No. Will they put her there by force? Yes. Mademoiselle joins her hands. Does she supplicate? Yes. Will she die? Yes. Soon? Yes. Will Mademoiselle fall? Yes. Is it necessary to let her fall? Yes. Will she fall backwards? No. Forwards? Yes. M. Flournoy: Must I lay down on this funeral pyre? No reply. Is my [Flournoy's] anteriority there? Yes. Mademoiselle retreats again, and we ask why? It is because they lay hold of her.

The dance of questions is irresistible. She lets herself be taken there and the gentlemen participate in the choreography. We may suppose that during the entire Hindu romance she is requested, in the same fashion, to render her Sanskrit accessible to the ear, then to translate it so that it could be committed to writing. It is in this context that the birth of Martian is prepared, finding its "incubation," as Flournoy writes, supported by the sustained interest among the scholars in the phenomenon of language.

We can catch a glimpse of the direction of their questioning regarding the language at another séance. On May 26, 1895, Élise speaks the first words in a foreign language, and here is how her tentative report is welcomed by Auguste Lemaître:

At 8:50 Mademoiselle experiences a heartbeat that, so she says, she has never felt. At the same time she has allochiria, but she distinguishes perfectly between tokens in different colors that Flournoy presents to her. Mademoiselle experiences an unknown trembling from top to toe. The table expresses the wish to speak and Mademoiselle being a bit tired asks me [A.L.] to spell. We get: Koos ... Is it Hungarian? [Table:] Yes. New sign from the table; I [A.L.] spell Oluu ... and after a short silence: opoq ... Are these three words? [Table:] Yes. She continues: Unly. Does this sentence: "Koos oluu opoq unly" have a meaning? [Table:] Yes. Is it Léopold who has dictated it? Yes. Is he alone? Yes. Is the sentence addressed to Mademoiselle? Yes. Have we too much light? Yes. We turn down the lamp. Will Mademoiselle have a vision? Yes. Related to someone present? Yes.

"Are these three words? Does the sentence have a meaning? Is the mother tongue of Élise's father Hungarian?" The scholars want her to reflect on language. In a manner they impose a school exercise upon her. The important thing certainly is that she speaks, but above all that she translates, divides up into segments, pronounces clearly, corrects herself Martian is evidently Élise's response to the prearranged frame of questions. The participants will get what they require, even if they should have to wait a little to obtain it. And what they collect no longer depends on the spirit but on a scientific context. The articulation of a melodic sentence does not satisfy them. However, the production of Martian seems really to be nothing but that, initially. Proof is provided by the famous scene from February 2, 1896 concerning which Flournoy writes:

We are constrained to believe that these first outbursts of Martian, characterized by a volubility which we have rarely met with since then, were only a pseudo-Martian, a continuation of sounds uttered at random and without any real meaning, analogous to the gibberish which children use sometimes in the games of "pretending" to speak Chinese or Indian.[13]

[13] This volume, above, p. 97.

But in turn we hear:

I don't understand this language ... You are not too warm in this dress? (Little finger: She will speak a language to us, not a terrestrial one, but a language spoken on Mars) ... I don't understand ... You want me to get in there, oh no! ... Speak French to me! ... I don't understand anything! ... Speak so that I understand you! You call yourself that! ... Is it easy to learn? ... In the name of Heaven, where are you coming from? ... I seem to have seen it ... Not a hat, it is like a plate! . . . You believe that I shall learn easily; I don't like learning foreign languages ... Is there another coming? Then I'll hardly understand anything at all ... What is this stick doing? ... I won't get over there, you get over there ... It is soft! ... Ah! I understand, it is only that which causes movement. (She steps back to let him pass.) Do you understand me when I chat to you? ... How do you understand me when I don't understand you! Speak to me in French all the time ... I shall never be able to retain all that. What does that mean? ... I need to tell them this entire story, that will interest them ... Well then! (Mademoiselle proceeds towards the dining room) Careful! You will get yourself wet, how will you get in, it's full of water! ... It's an impossible language! ... Speak, what do you call it? ... What language! Is it Chinese? If at least I could comprehend what you're telling me here! ... Sure, I shall speak, but on one condition: you tell me what that means! ... You know French well, you have spoken French on two occasions! ... What are you saying there? You are only a person here ... a woman! ... There is someone who speaks French, but where is he? Go find him! ... Speak slowly, I shall repeat ... Michma mitchmou minimi tchouanimen minatchineg masichinof mezavi patelki abresinad navette naven navette mitchichenid naken chinoutoufiche ... (These words were pronounced roughly with the sounds transcribed here; but in the quick conversation which followed, it was impossible to grasp anything; I noted in passing some words and here they are separately: teké- ... katéchivist ... magetch or méketch (several times in the course of the dialogue) ... kéti ... chiméké).

On that day Élise Müller refused to provide the translation which was demanded of her. She even remained deaf to Flournoy's suggestion: "After your awakening, when I knock three times on the table, you will remember all that you have said in Martian and you will repeat it in French to Madame Mégevant". One needs to resort to trickery for her finally to deliver. At the end of the séance in fact:

Mademoiselle hears our questions with a natural charm, answering us in Martian. I [A.L.] profit from posing the following questions to her, to which I already knew the answers in French. Quest: Which persons were present at the séance on Wednesday at M. Cuendet? Rep. Métich Cuendet, Médache Cuendet, Metich Senn, Métaganich Müller. So you weren't that many, how many were you? Reply (smiling): Kintch (that which should mean four) and a moment later Mlle. repeats in the following order: Métich Cuendet, Senn, Médache Cuendet, Métaganich Müller. Note that one does not repeat Metich in front of a series of names.

We thus have four Martian words with translation.

The encounter here is exemplary. Mademoiselle says that she does not like to learn foreign languages, but she produces a melodic sentence, and Auguste Lemaître underscores "the great volubility," "her complete lack of hesitation."[14] To them what matters is the translation, and their triumph consists in having been able to get four of these words with their French equivalent out of her. On our part, we do not remain insensitive to Élise's "monologic dialogue." These sentences are truncated, the text is chopped up, the dialogue with an absent interlocutor is constantly interrupted by silences. The points of suspension, exclamation marks, and question marks are mixed up. We are a thousand miles from the descriptions and narratives which would have flourished in the initial mediumistic séances.

[14] Lemaître, "Contribution," p. 87.

Silence, Writing, and Production

After this first attempt on February 2, 1896, the participants are evidently in a hurry "to know more." Théodore Flournoy now laments that "the following séance, unfortunately, did not fulfil the promises with which it began." It is even "almost entirely deficient" - which is to say that Élise expounded neither her Martian language nor her translation as she had announced; she is content, according to Flournoy, with chatting "in French with the sitters, but mingling with it here and there a strange word (such as méche, chinit, chèque, which, according to the context, seem to signify 'pencil,' 'ring,' 'paper')."[15] In fact, here is how that happened:

[15] This volume, above, p. 98.

8:59 "Oh! such heat!" she exclaims. is it better like that? we ask her. She replies: "Who was unwell?" She seems to have come to her senses. But turning towards M. Roch, she kneels before the table where he writes and says to him laughing: "What is this stick (it is about a pencil)? One doesn't write like that!" I [A.L.] bring a table towards her to ask her to show us how one should write, and quickly she shouts: I don't want this mèche! While laughing all the time she calls M. Flournoy and says to him: Come and see how he writes! And catching sight of her ring which she had deposited at the beginning of the séance she says: Help, chinit! Her amazement before the pencil continues. We try to give her a long one, a short one, but she turns them over in her hand and throws them away. I present her with a feather dipped in ink. She removes this ink with the tip of her index finger which she runs over the paper making blobs. We insist that she should write, but she replies: I can't, everything has been taken away from me! She crumples the paper between her fingers and with her nail she cuts out a very regular square from the rectangular sheet. At a point where we have hidden away the paper which she had she says: My paper is not this one, this is another small chèque!

Disappointment, most certainly, for the audience: Élise does not comply with the request for writing. Flournoy merely glosses that "the importance of this séance is in the fact that the idea stands out clearly (which was not to be realized until a year and a half later) of a mode of handwriting peculiar to the planet Mars."[16] Whose idea is it of "standing out clearly" and what kind of writing is actually in question?

[16] Ibid.

The preceding records are dated February 16. The health of Élise Müller has been seriously jeopardized: struck by long illness, she is kept in bed. Hence the séances are to be suspended for six months; they resume in the autumn. And this will be the outburst of Martian and of its translation, which one may think of as being the unique result of the slow "incubation" of the medium. Nothing, in effect, within the work of Flournoy permits the denial of this interpretation.

Nothing, except that we suppose it is during this six-month break that Auguste Lemaître writes his article "Contribution à l'étude des phénoménes psychiques," appearing in March-April 1897 in the Annales des sciences psychiques.[17] Between the summer of 1896 - the presumed date of its composition - and the date of its publication, the delay is of importance. What makes us believe that it is during this period that the article was written? Firstly, when speaking of Martian in his article, Lemaître only refers to the séance of February 2, 1896. Now if he had written this article in the autumn or even later he would have had other Martian texts at his disposal and he would have been eager, no doubt, to provide his reader with them to read. What supports us in this thesis is furthermore that this first article by Lemaître is to be followed in the May-June issue of the journal by the "Remarques sur les expériences de M. Lemaître" by M. E. Lefébure, Professor at l'École Supérieure des Lettres d'Alger, to which the Genevan replies, indicating with regard to the unknown language that "he had only been able to capture four words with translation" at the moment when his first article went to press.[18] On the other hand, Lemaître points out that since then Martian has reappeared in several séances of which he "had not been able to transcribe everything - far from it." He adds, that "when the medium spoke it with speed, it seemed like these animated conversations which Russian or Romanian students have with each other."[19]

[17] Lemaître, "Contribution."
[18] E. Lefébure, "Remarques sur les experiences de M. Lemaître," Annales des sciences Psychiques 7 (1897): pp. 176-80; A. Lemaître, "Reponse," Annales des sciences Psychiques 7 (1897): pp. 181-88.
[19] Lemaître, "Reponse," p. 182.

If we insist on reconstructing the chronology of events, it is because we suspect that the outburst of Martian came after Lemaître's text.[20] We like wise measure the impact of this text in the evocation of a "monstrous beast" who writes. Speaking Martian, its translation, and the announcement of a writing appear at the same time, in the autumn of 1896. Here is a fragment of the séance of November 8:

[20] However, an enigma remains: Lemaître only refers to the séance of February 2 at the moment when his article goes to press. It is hardly plausible that his article appearing in March-April 1897 was already typeset in the preceding autumn. On the contrary, one might think that it was already written and that Lemaître did not complete it with the new séances.

Asténé [a Martian figure], I would like to come often to you. I feel less heavy, less oppressed, calmer, more peaceful. I feel much better at your place than at my place. But you will easily carry off this vile beast from here ... Oh no, I don't think it could be intelligent ... Oh no, I don't want to see it, I don't want it to come near me. It is very ugly; they have prettier ones at our place ... It is she who knows how to write all that; I will only believe it when I see it! ... So make her write! ... Ah! she doesn't understand; it is from habit that she writes! ... Her eyes aren't beastly, when one sees her ... She is sweet, this beast! ... Is it she who lowers the telescope [lunette]? (I [A. L.] had written the match [l'allumette])... Does she know how to unscrew it? ... She gives it to you. Then she deserves hanging. It's crazy! ... But have you taught her to be intelligent? ... It must have taken you a lot of time ... No? ... It doesn't matter, it's a pity she should be so ugly! I only like pretty things! ... You will show me your lantern.

Who is the "vile beast" that Élise Müller is afraid of, or jokes about? Who says one must "be intelligent"? "Make her write," Élise says to the beast. "Write," the participants say to Mademoiselle, since one of them is already given the task, and all the séances are committed to writing.

We are certain that Élise has read Lemaître's article shortly after he has written it or even during its composition, just as she read the records. She must have retained the hypothesis expressed in it: "Rigorously, one could account for this extraordinary language by attributing it to a double of the medium or, in scholarly terms, a splitting of the personality. Children at times amuse themselves by fabricating a language from nothing."[21]

[21] Lemaître, "Contribution," p. 87. Our emphasis.

This hypothesis Lemaître takes-without citing its author-from Flournoy, who already speaks thus about the first Martian words as being a playful and childish creation. Élise most certainly knows it-she would either have heard it from the mouth of Flournoy or have read it in Lemaître. Is it wrong to think that from then on she will manage to refute it by fabricating a language according to a model that their questions provide, that is to say, by delivering a word for word translation and committing it to writing? Flournoy admits to this when he writes, “It is necessary at the start to render this justice to the Martian ... namely, that this is, indeed, a language and not a simple jargon or gibberish of vocal noises produced at the hazard of the moment without any stability."[22] We are in the presence of "a typical case of 'glosso-poesy,' of complete fabrication of all the parts of a new language by a subconscious activity," he concedes.[23] But he maintains his comparison with a children's game.

[22] This volume, above, p. 154.
[23] Ibid., p. 124.

From Word to Word

From the autumn, Élise Müller consequently speaks in Martian. During the séance of November 2, she herself stages the scenario of the translation. Léopold - her double patron-gives Flournoy instructions: he is to place his hand on the forehead of Élise and utter the name of Ésenale, an inhabitant on Mars who is the incarnation of a son of one of the participants, Alexis Megevand (Mirbel in From India to the Planet Mars). The submission to this ritual is the condition for Élise agreeing to translate what Flournoy calls a "long monologue, constantly interrupted by silences" and whose continuation is only secured "having constant recourse to the name of Ésenale as the magic word, alone capable of extracting each time a few words from Hélène's confused brain."[24]

[24] Ibid., p. 108.

During the séance of November 8 in which Flournoy did not participate, the scenario repeats itself. Is the young woman on the alert? In effect, she only resolves to translate by taking even further precautions:

The left index finger then says that we shall have some Martian, since we will have the translation of it. My [A.L.] left thumb tells me that by uttering the name of Ésenale I shall obtain the translation, it also tells me that the Martian will be pronounced sufficiently slowly for me to be able to transcribe it.

From then on, Élise is no longer satisfied with being voluble and producing harmonious intonations. She is worried about the transcription of her speech, concerning which she knows she is being difficult. The séance of November 8, 1896, beginning at 4:40 p.m. and finishing at 6:15, shows this:

5:50 p. m. Mademoiselle gets up and turns towards Mme. Megevand, in front of whom she genuflects. She takes her right hand and caresses it in a friendly way several times over. After that she utters a Martian sentence roughly like the following: Mon déiné cé dji sé vouitch ni évé chéé quiné liné. When the sentence is completed whilst Mlle. continues to caress the hand of Madame Mégevand, I [A. L.] say "Ésenale" and we get it word for word. I had not divided the words as they should be. It is with a low voice that Mademoiselle gives the following interpretation:

Mondé, Mother - iné, dear - (or si), I - di (or dji), you - séveouitch, recognise - ni, I - évé, am - ché (or chéé), your - little - Liné.

(One needs to point out that quiné and Liné were not repeated in the word for word.)

The sentence thus translates: Dear Mother, I recognise you, I am your little Linet.

While Élise unfolds the phantasmatic scenario of its translation, the scholars on their part insist on gaining accuracy. How do they do it? Flournoy gives a hint in a note:

The "word for word" is not always directly as strict.... Esanale often interprets several words at a time.... But in instances of hesitation on the correspondence between the Martian and French terms, he is made to repeat the doubtful words separately so that at the end of the reckoning one truly possesses the exact word for word.[25]

[25] ibid., p. 296.

Each time it is necessary to caress the forehead of Élise and repeat the name of Ésanale, It is not her who translates, but the young man from whom she repeats the phrases. When submitting to the demand for rigour, she dissects what she has just uttered, as Auguste Lemaître points out on November 29, 1896:

Translation: Mlle. sometimes repeats the Martian words, at other times she continues without repeating them. I [A. L.] make a point of repeating certain words in order to know how to separate them. The sentence in French becomes ...

Most often, one has to wait for some hours to reach that point and so be able to undertake an analysis of the text at which one has finally arrived. A Martian glossary is built up, and its syntax pinned down. The curious scholars compel Élise to a difficult exercise concerning the "unknown language." The dialogic context to which she is subjected strangely resembles the relational structure belonging to the "schoolmasterish monologue" addressed to disobedient children to be reared or taught.

Production of Text and Dissociation of Élise

"Mademoiselle" perseveres from séance to séance, and even outside. Flournoy and Lemaître collect the textual productions. We could confine ourselves to recalling them without drawing attention to what goes on all around, and notably the progressive dramatization of the séances. We see, for example, what takes place on December 13, 1896. Flournoy is absent. Élise complains: they "tear off her skin in flakes from top to bottom on the back and wrists to the end of both hands"; "they take away the skin of her eyes"; they "shake her blood"; they "whip her blood." She comes and goes unflaggingly between the Martian and the Hindu scene: the name of Sivrouka comes up again on repeated occasions as if a struggle was taking place to the point where the participants ask themselves "if by chance M. Flournoy would have made a suggestion to Mademoiselle through Florrisant or otherwise." We are in the presence of an anarchic succession of offended monologues. Élise no longer knows who is "I," who is "you," who is "they," as she addresses herself to Léopold at the time of the séance of December 13:

Oh yes, Léopold, life, what a sad comedy! in fact, I am very glad for you to have ... One never has two happy hours ... always being tormented by a mass of unpleasant things ... Well, in any case you always look after me. And then one must believe that it is probably for my own good. One needs to look at things in that way, we have got to admit it ... with him, that's a totally different matter ... Yes, I'll go tomorrow, that's it ... At first, yes, it is you who have gained victory in this matter ... It is you who have made me write it, and at the moment where I expected it the least, I had to pick up the pen ... First these utterances, they are not mine ... He seemed satisfied, even delighted, but I really made him feel it was me ... I have done well, on the whole you have done well because it was not me who wrote; you have instructed me, thanks! ... And then you believe that this is not what I think.

Quite often we no longer know who speaks: is it Élise or is it really Flournoy making suggestions to her? Is it Léopold through the voice of Élise? On January 17, 1897, Élise at last obeys a suggestion of Flournoy's: her voice changes into "a strong, deep, hollow voice joined by a great laughter, vulgar and prolonged," that of Léopold who speaks through her mouth. This scene, which Lemaître classifies as "grotesque," signifies the slow dispossession of Élise. By being the object of different suggestions, by being pestered with questions, she is woman and then man; she is again the other. Nothing stops her in her propensity for moving on to a third. Flournoy nevertheless multiplies the suggestions, to which she surrenders, like in the séance of February 21, in order to lose herself further still.

From then on M. Flournoy made several suggestions to her which she obeyed exactly. M. Lemaître plays some sad or joyful music on the piano: in the first instance she goes towards M. Flournoy to cry, in the second she laughs. Otherwise she beats the time with her left hand or with her head, even with her eyelids as M. Flournoy has suggested to her. M. F. makes her kneel down in front of him or beat him, tells her to go and take a rose on the knees of Mme. Lemaître, to prick herself on the finger on this imaginary rose, etc. The feeling of being pricked and of blood trickling down is most gripping. On several occasions Mlle. groans when showing us her finger.

Thus the production of the Martian texts progresses in keeping with the dissolution of she who, meanwhile, continually attempts to respond to that which she knows to be the firm belief of Théodore Flournoy. In effect, during the séance of February 21 she transmits the following, through the table that dictates her thought: "that which Mademoiselle begins to perceive comes to her neither from Léopold, nor from her own depths, nor from anybody present."


We have already foreshadowed the fact that the article by Lemaître was not, from the time of its writing, without effect on the outburst of Martian in the autumn. Now we may ask ourselves if the publication of this article in April-May 1897, followed by the reply by Lemaître in May-June, had repercussions on Élise's production. Between March and May we no longer have any records at our disposal: two months of interruption, for which nothing gives any hint, neither Lemaître in his records nor Flournoy in his work. The séances resume on May 9, 1897, and here - could this be mere chance? - Élise's preoccupation with writing becomes more specific. On May 30, 1897, we can read:

(According to me [A. L.] who writes) I believe that at this moment you fulfil the position of a writer (Pleasant position, is it not?) Everything depends on what you write (But who are you then?) Marie! (What is the king doing?) I think that the king is sleeping at the moment - M. Lemaître, what time do you make it? Oh! it's not really late. I slept (M. Roch says Madame to her; she responds:) M. Roch, in treating me like a Madame you make a fool of me, since for the moment I am really a mistress. I don't know if I've been cold, but it hurts here on my right side (actually the left) Ah! now it's on the left side (actually the right).

(With the voice of Léopold:) I don't know what's the cause of it, but I feel very bad on this side! But what are you then writing, M. Lemaître? Ah! I feel so bad, I feel very bad on this side. (M. Roch tells her that he will relieve her of her pain by magnetizing it.) I have never heard it said that you magnetize; M. Lemaître, M. Roch pretends that he knows how to magnetize. But he hasn't understood a bit of it, M. Lemaître, put in the biography that you are writing, that you bore me, also put that M. Roch pretended to know the area where I felt pain and he placed his finger on the side! At the moment, sure the pain is gone, but it comes here from the right side (actually the left).[26]

[26] Our emphasis.

This preoccupation of EIise Müller with writing does not date, as we know, from this period. it concurred quite exactly with the first words spoken in Martian during the month of February 1896. And we bear in mind her dialogue, in the autumn of 1896, with the "nasty beast."

Flournoy very accurately retraces the history of staging the Martian writing: it "only appeared at the end of a prolonged period of incubation, which betrayed itself in several incidents, and certainly stimulated by various exterior suggestions during a year and a half at least."[27] However, he never calls to mind the public battle surrounding her during the first eight months of 1897. We resume this chronology.

[27] This volume, above, p. 126.

In the course of the summer Élise never stops announcing the writing will come soon. Thus on June 27, 1897:

Come here, Ésenale! ... Ah! There is Asténé! Come close to me ... not behind the armchair! ... There he is! ... Ésenale is there! They see each other but don't speak to each other. Asténé is aged, Ésenale is young ... It doesn't absorb - the ink - this material! it is a material where the ink dries immediately, a kind of blotting paper! ... A stiffer material ... You are writing on that! Do they not have paper at your place? ... It is a material you can roll, it dries immediately ... It is not in ink ... M. Flournoy wants me to write with this thing (allusion to a kind of pen made from a nib or a pencil attached to a ring through which one puts a finger, so that it writes in Martian) ... It is heavy, it is material ... but I can understand this blade, this piece of metal which marks ... It is movable, one can press at the tip ... It is beautiful this writing ... All that sums up a long conversation ... Would you teach me to write? ... They make out that you one day said, I will write, is that true? ... Yes, I do well believe what one tells me ... Stay a bit, stay Ésenale! Listen, that's Ésenale who speaks: Modé tatiné cé ké mache radziré zé...

"Soon he will write," Élise confirms during this séance. In July she has a vision on the tram. Here is how Auguste Lemaître reports it: "Mademoiselle met Léopold on the tramway who urged her not to obstruct (on the contrary rather) the work which M. Flournoy considers undertaking with his subject."[28]

[28] Records from July 11, 1897.

On August 19 Flournoy writes a letter to the Annales des sciences psychiques in order to indicate that he dissociates himself from the interpretations by his friend Lemaître and that he is preparing another work:

I am so much more inclined to renounce my responsibility for the ideas raised in passing by my excellent colleague and friend M. Lemaître, since I hope soon to return to the curious phenomena of his medium in order to provide a purely psychological interpretation without recourse to spiritist notions of incarnation, anteriority, etc.[29]

[29] Flournoy, "Lettre à I'adresse du directeur," Annales des sciences psychiques 7 (1897): p. 255.

On August 22 Élise Müller supplies a sample of Martian writing. Long after this date she will still produce texts, with their translation and writing. But while she had, up to the present moment, succeeded in preserving her everyday life as a salesperson in a silk shop, she now makes a mistake at her place of work. She replaces the number ten (the tenth month of the year) with the number three: "Without knowing why, writes Lemaître, she constantly substitutes the number 3 for the number 10 on the shop's dockets where she should indicate October by its number in the order of the year (10th month)."[30] Mars [March] is the third month.

[30] Séance of October 24, 1897.

The rest we know. In October of the following year, in 1898, Flournoy expresses his "utter skepticism" to her concerning the area of Martian.[31] This should not come as a surprise to her. Never mind that, she takes recourse to ultra-Martian, then to Uranian, and on to Lunarian. She accedes to trilingual translations: Ultra-Martian text with Martian and French translations.[32] While Élise Müller is uneasy about responding to Théodore Flournoy's scientific quest, her linguistic productions do not in fact dry up.

[31] This volume, above, p. 166.
[32] Flournoy, "Nouvelles observations sur un cas de sonmambulisme avec glossolie," Archives de psychologie 1 (1901): pp. 101-255.

The Language of Scientific Illusion

In the phenomenon that occupies us here, Flournoy sees a "infantile travesty of French."[33] Subsequently, all those who will lean on the glossolalic case of Élise will undertake, in the same way, to dismantle the mechanics of Martian which, according to Guilhem Teulie, "from a linguistic point of view is nothing but a literal translation of French through the aid of neologisms."[34] jean Bobon, for his part, resumes the appraisals of Flournoy: the glossolalic productions are "puerile in their form and in their basis, strongly tinted by affect, varying in their vocabulary and not in their internal structure, they bear witness to a regression to an infantile stage of personality." Élise's case "incontestably forms a part of psychopathology," according to the same author.[35]

[33] This volume, above, p. 154.
[34] G. Tenlie, "Une forme de glossolalic," Annales médico-psychologiques (1938): p. 50.
[35] J. Bobon, "La glossolalie ludique psychonevrosique," in Introduction historique à l'etude des néoologismes et des glossolalic en psychopathologie (Paris: Masson, 1952), P. 64.

How did Élise Müller go about creating Martian? The linguists certainly have their reasons for arguing that it is only a disguised form of French. It seems to us that the principal question has to be posed otherwise. The Martian language is not merely that of Élise. Is it not created by those who are questioning? When Élise begins to speak it, Sanskrit as well as Martian are remarkable in their melodic character, their musicality. Élise, Lemaître stresses, does express herself with "an incredible volubility having a very exotic, inimitable and never-failing accent."[36] Whereas Sanskrit resists questioning and remains a language of love in which the name of Sivrouka can be pronounced with softness and passion, Martian yields to suggestions without which there would be no construction.

[36] Lemaître, "Réponse," p. 184.

We know that the phenomenon of glossolalia is always social and needs to be sustained by others, by ideology - religious or spiritual - which gives it a frame, authorizes it, valorizes it, and furnishes it with an external meaning. It requires an Institution that awaits the production by the subject in order then to interpret it. In a religious context, "speaking in tongues" has its writings, its masters, and its examples. In the spiritist context, similarly, its comprehension is of a straightforward nature; it rests on the immortality of the soul, on reincarnation - that is to say, the capacity for being "other" in another life, or being visited by someone dead, a spirit, etc., something that makes it possible. We are each time in contexts where use is made of suggestion.

Élise Müller, by passing from a spiritist to a scientific context, is subjected to different suggestions, the power of which, however, remains the same. Without this passage, she would possibly not have developed her speaking in tongues. She would probably only have achieved through it a "classical" glossolalic production, a melody coming from elsewhere. In his work From India to the Planet Mars, Flournoy certainly does not conceal that he multiplies the suggestions. By reading the minutes from the séances, we are, however, surprised by their profusion and above all by their steadfastness. And we remain struck with astonishment when they come close to farce, when they manipulate Élise and make of her a true puppet, a pure object of observation.

Flournoy takes no account of these suggestions in his analysis: Élise's "infantile" productions are her own creation. By restoring certain texts from the séances we have, on the contrary, wanted to show that Martian was at the least her creation for him, and also the mirror of his conception of language, the result of his desires, the other side of himself.

The linguist Victor Henry, for his part, ponders judiciously as to why Sanskrit and Martian do not know, or hardly know, the letter f. Is it because, for Élise, the f symbolizes the French that she does not want to speak?[37] We could also very well say that by its absence the f reveals the omnipresence of Flournoy, whose initial it is.

[37] V. Henry, Le langage martien, p. 22ff.

A Visionary of Language

We can further show the impact of the scientific context on the production of Martian through another opposition. Whereas Élise uses Sanskrit in order to converse directly with Sivrouka, she only speaks in Martian in order to repeat what she has heard. This enunciation, translated on May 23, 1897, testifies to this: "Come nearer, don't fear; soon you will be able to write in our writing, and you will have our language at the tip your fingers."

She is content with repeating fragments of conversations in Martian, audible to her only: "Speak, I'll repeat it to them, that should interest them." She seeks to understand, but in a way she remains at a distance in order to prove, probably, that the foreign language does not come from her, that this language really exists in the mouth of her invisible interlocutors.

Beforehand, she only depicted Martian landscapes. She now attributes a language of which she is the interpreter to the people inhabiting these landscapes. She invites us to the scene provided by actors, evoking for the audience a plot played out beyond the stage by invisible protagonists with whom she does not stop conversing. Beforehand, she described landscapes with plenty of detail and colors; her speech was concerned with representing a reality. The dialogue turned out successfully. Actually, the texts of the séances take the form of an endless dialogue, as if dedicated to excess. Élise takes complete part in this dialogue. But this is not at all the case when she formulates her Martian enunciations.

In the Hindu romance, the Sanskrit work forms a love transference by Élise onto Sivrouka-Flournoy. The Martian itself is sustained by their rivalry around knowledge and observation: in it, Élise is definitively effaced as a subject of enunciation. Martian is not only the staging of an "ability to speak," as Michel de Certeau defines glossolalia;[38] it is the caricature of a linguistic production where the meaning has been reduced to signification, to the word-for-word.

[38] M. de Certeau, "Utopies vocales: Glossolalie," Le discours psychanalytique 7 (1983): pp. 10-18.

Many have questioned themselves and will still question themselves about the pathology of Élise Müller. Must one consider her a hysteric, or even a psychopath? Should one not liken her glossolalic productions to "speaking in tongues" such as happens in certain deliria? We believe that wanting to pin it down in whatever classification is to revert to pushing her to the front of a stage in a role created by her alone, and which varies from one séance to the other. Without denying her predispositions, it seems more just to us to restore the theatre of its performance, where the drama is played out; we also owe it to the audience.

We shall finish with this: Lefebure asks himself in his article if the medium spoken about is not a painter. "He sees in pictures, he writes, and if he is not a draughtsman by profession, he is at least so by instinct," so it seems to him.[39] Élise's father was a polyglot. Élise Müller always maintained that she did not like learning foreign languages and after she had come out of the storm provoked by the publication of From India to the Planet Mars, she became an inspired painter.[40] The glossolalic production thus only lasts as long as the time of the prompting observation.

[39] E. Lefebure, "Remarques," p. 179.
[40] W. Deonna, De la Planète Mars en terre sainte (Paris: Boccard, 1932).

Translated by Michael Munchow.


The above article was taken from Théodore Flournoy's "From India to the Planet Mars" (reprint: Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.).

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