In 1990 a former prostitute named Fatou Sarre was tried in Alsace for the murder of her mother-in-law. Why, the prosecutor wanted to know, had Fatou, after bludgeoning Odile Gayean to death with a hammer, proceeded to gouge out her eyeballs? Fatou’s reply was simple but surprising: she had been afraid that the dead woman’s retinas would preserve an image of her in the act of murder. The curious thing – okay, one of the curious things – was that the origin of this belief wasn’t traced to Fatou’s childhood in Senegal, but to a Bollywood film she had happened to see, which itself had borrowed the notion from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European fiction (by, among others, Jules Verne).
These novelists had been inspired in their turn by the work of distinguished scientists, serious truth-seekers, most notably Professor Wilhelm Kühne of the University of Heidelberg, who devoted years of his life to exploring whether ‘optograms’