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Book Review – Mitchell G. Ash (ed.): Psychoanalyse in totalitären und autoritären Regimen (Frankfurt a. M. 2010)

By Uffa Jensen

“Psychoanalysis in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes”

In political terms, Freud’s view of his creation – psychoanalysis – was ambivalent. In the wake of the First World War, he argued in favor of the use of psychoanalysis by the expanding welfare state under a Socialist or reformist leadership.  When later referring to the threat of Bolshevism against psychoanalysis in Russia, he stated, however, that psychoanalysis required a “certain liberal attitude”. And after the rise of Nazism, he did not hesitate to advocate the continuation of psychoanalysis in the name of pure science, despite the evident intimidation of Jewish psychoanalysts. This raises important questions (not just) about the history of psychoanalysis, which are explored in this collection of essays. How flexible was psychoanalysis as a system of knowledge in its adaptation to a political context? Did it have a clear political nature? Or could psychoanalysis as a therapeutic technique and a scientific body of ideas be reinterpreted to fit almost every political system, including authoritarian or totalitarian dictatorships?

In his introduction, the editor of this volume, Mitchell G. Ash, broadens the perspective beyond the history of psychoanalysis: in the history of science more generally we can find numerous examples of a false opposition between true science in democracies and pseudo-science in totalitarian or authoritarian regimes. Historically, this contrasting interpretation results itself from an ideological constellation: the anti-totalitarian mobilization of science during the Cold War era. Such views enabled and supported the conventional view of psychoanalysis, which, particularly in the case of Nazi Germany, stresses the incompatibility of psychoanalysis and totalitarian political regimes. In contrast to other sciences, the practice of psychoanalysis in a totalitarian society poses a specific problem as a therapeutic instrument: to treat patients should mean to restore their self, but this also requires a certain degree of social and political adjustment. Thus, psychoanalysis could prove to be attractive to very different political regimes. As Michael Schröter can demonstrate in this volume, this functional (re-)orientation of psychoanalysis as a therapy proved to be the way in which the remaining psychoanalysts tried to convince the new regime of their usefulness. A similar point is discussed by Geoffrey Cocks, who stresses the importance of therapeutic ideas for the Nazi regime in its attempt to mobilize and discipline the human resources available to it. For such normalizing efforts, practical psychoanalytical methods were much more helpful for the regime than any discussion of a “German” form of therapy (“deutsche Seelenheilkunde”).

In his essay, Michael Schröter further explores the relationship of the psychoanalytical movement and the emerging Nazi regime. He concentrates on the early phase of the regime from 1933 to 1936 – the period in which there was still hope that psychoanalysis could survive under Nazism. It is important to note that in this period psychoanalysis was ridiculed by the regime, but its practitioners were not directly persecuted. While many Jewish psychoanalysts had to leave Germany, they often did so because of restrictions and humiliation, not yet because of direct physical threats. The only exceptions here were psychoanalysts on the radical left like Wilhelm Reich. Schröter carefully discusses the developments during the period and stresses their fundamental openness. He even puts into context the infamous attempts by German, non-Jewish psychoanalysts like Felix Boehm or Carl Müller-Braunschweig to establish a psychoanalysis with a “specifically German character”, which were at least implicitly directed against its supposedly “Jewish” character. Schröter’s piece is noteworthy in its attempt to treat these protagonists with “understanding and compassion” and “to identify exactly the point where understanding and compassion reach a limit” (164). This has already sparked considerable discussions in German psychoanalytical circles, as a recent volume of “Psyche” (Vol. 65/2, 2011) reveals.

In her contribution, Birgit Johler approaches a similar issue from an entirely different angle. She provides insight into the therapeutic practice of August Aichhorn, one of the few remaining psychoanalysts in Vienna after 1938. This is part of an ongoing project on Aichhorn’s daily work that attempts to describe the social profile of his patients. An interesting detail is his particular use of his date-books before and after the Nazi’s seizure of power in Austria. It remains unclear, however, how to explain his deliberate attempt to conceal meetings and sessions, with the use of two different date-books. It could have been an instrument to deceive the Nazi regime about the true nature of his psychoanalytical practice – or to just evade the tax system.

In her contribution, Jacqueline Amati Mehler recounts the early history of the Italian psychoanalytical movement under the Fascist regime as a “story of David and Goliath” (136). Yet, she stresses the relatively relaxed relationship until the mid-1930s. The fact that she finds little evidence of collaboration by Italian psychoanalysts may, however, have more to do with the comparatively low level of institutionalization of psychoanalysis in Italy – and individual opposition to the regime – than with strict ideological incommensurability.

Igor M. Kadyrov recounts the development of psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union and in contemporary Russia. He describes the early phase of psychoanalytical reception until the mid-1920s as a period of immense discursive richness, combined with an acute lack of trained personnel, proper psychoanalytical training, and coherent and systematic therapeutic practice. While the movement had thus always stood on shaky grounds, the actual destruction of the psychoanalytical movement in Soviet Russia certainly came from above and was, in particular, a consequence of the political power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, who was closely associated with psychoanalysis. In Kadyrov’s account, it was only in the 1970s that psychoanalysis started to make inroads into Soviet society again.

There are more historical essays in this collection, exploring similar problems, i.e. in Belgium, Norway, or Brazil. Other contributions concentrate on the historical consequences of the Nazi period for postwar psychoanalysis. However, two further texts also underline the difficulties of approaching this subject. In her essay, Elizabeth Brainin analyses dreams during the Nazi era. She does raise some interesting points: discussing two of Victor Klemperer’s short dreams, she can show how prevalent fear and persecution were in his daily life – up to the point that dreaming itself lost its function as a refuge and any possibility of wish fulfilling. Her discussion of Charlotte Beradt’s collection of “Dreams in the Third Reich” (1966) is also useful, at least in part. In general, however, her approach does not fit well with the other essays, because of its a-historical nature, in two different respects. Firstly, her arguments rest upon Freudian concepts of dream interpretation, which are themselves not analyzed as historical entities, but taken for granted. Secondly, she portrays Nazi ideology as an irrational evil that subjugates the individual dreamer. Hence, much of her discussion of dreams by non-Jews assumes that a wish to coexist with the regime stood in sharp conflict with the wish to resist it, which existed in the superego. Thus, the individual dream was not a fulfillment of a wish, but ripe with conflict. But how can we presuppose that a wish to resist the regime existed in the superego? Historians of Nazis would find such a prevalence of resistance truly astonishing, given what they know about the nature of opposition under Nazism. Hence, this seems to come dangerously close to simply reproducing the self-image of the dreamers as objects and, in some way even, as victims of the Nazi dictatorship. Similar problems arise in Daphne Stock’s essay on psychoanalysis and democratic consciousness. Here, again psychoanalytical categories are used and not questioned for the analysis of the politics of the present era.

But apart from such criticism, this collection of essays is an important contribution to the debates about the history of psychoanalysis and, in general, of science in totalitarian regimes. A further comment for future research needs to be added here. Interestingly, these essays primarily approach the problem of political utilization from the perspective of psychoanalysis. The question how adaptable psychoanalysis was under totalitarian or authoritarian regimes could be turned around as well: how willing were such regimes to accept psychoanalysis? Here, additional insights may be gained, because it seems that in most cases it was the lack of interest and, after a while, even open hostility of these regimes that in the end destroyed the official psychoanalytical movements, not the other way around. On the whole, psychoanalysts tried to adapt to the political circumstances, if they were allowed to do so. But what perceptions of psychoanalysis caused the general mistrust, aversion, or ignorance with which totalitarian and authoritarian regimes approached it? Why were they – after a while – no longer interested in an explicitly psychoanalytical technique of psychological adjustment? Was this caused by anti-Semitism and by the complementary image of psychoanalysis as an unacceptable “Jewish science”? What role in this rejection was played by the allegedly bourgeois character of psychoanalysis? Or by its emphasis on sexuality? At least in part, it was the somewhat late, but nevertheless resolute rejection by these regimes that gave psychoanalysis its now disputed reputation of a democratic and politically defiant force.

Uffa Jensen is currently affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, where he is a researcher in the project on “Curing Emotions. Psychoanalysis in Berlin, London, and Calcutta 1910-1940.”

Film Review – The King’s Speech: A talking cure for the stiff upper lip

By Annemone Ligensa

In 1865, in an American newspaper, the English journalist George Augustus Sala wrote about his countrymen:

“Some of us lisp, and some of us drawl, and some of us stutter, and many of us hem and haw, and a great many of us clap on H’s where there should be none, and take away H’s where they should be left. We are always speaking, and yet we speak badly.”

Arguably, the British take great pride in the beauty of their language, especially spoken language. Public speaking is the very fabric on which the nation is built. Hence, politics and performance have a symbiotic relationship. This was not something modern media invented: It goes back as far as Elizabeth I and Shakespeare. At least two Englishmen could not afford to speak badly: the monarch, and his fool. Today, the Empire is no more, but the one thing that still distinguishes an Englishman from global Americanization is his speech. Stripped of his accent, TV viewers never guess that Dr. Gregory House was once Bertie Wooster.

Which brings us to another Bertie, the one who later became George VI, and his wise fool, Lionel Logue, an Australian Henry Higgins, something of a contradiction in terms for another George, Bernie Shaw. Or rather, it brings us to the poor players that play their shadows on the screen, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. To put the thespian cart before the horse, the filmmaker’s achievement is not the treatment of their subject matter, but creating a film that is such a hit, both with critics as well as the audience at large. Many of the historical inaccuracies of this film have already been painstakingly nitpicked, some of the psychological ones too, but nonetheless most viewers were enthralled by the film.

The real story goes something like this. Albert, the second son of King George V, spoke with a stammer. He sought help and found it in Lionel Logue, an elocution teacher. When his older brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson in 1936, Albert ascended to the throne as King George VI. Together with his wife Elizabeth (later affectionately known as Queen Mum), he led the nation through WWII.

Geoffrey Rush has thanked the British royals for creating a “massive historical soap opera”. Indeed, dramatizations of the period have focused more often on the sensational story of Edward and Wallis’s public romance rather than on Bertie and Lionel’s discrete Pygmalion bromance. For added effect, the filmmakers obviously learned from the best: Sigmund Freud. Even though Freud famously snubbed Hollywood, he was a master storyteller with a propensity for the melodramatic deus ex machina ending, casting himself in the role of the deus, of course. Whereas Freud tended to exaggerate the effectiveness of his treatment, the filmmakers exaggerate the severity of the affliction. Both Freud and the film, whether knowingly or not, misrepresent the cause, as well as the cure.

The current view on stuttering that continues into adulthood (many children have a temporary phase of stuttering) is that it is a neurological disorder with a genetic component, except for those cases that are the consequence of injury. Anxiety may worsen stuttering (e.g. the situation of public speaking), and stutterers often have feelings of low self-esteem due to social stigmatization, but this is not the primary cause. The subtle difference between correlations and causes is often lost in popular psychology.

By contrast, the film piles on common beliefs that have found little or no support in research (to the point that the affliction seems over-determined), and clearly favors psychoanalytic theories as the final explanation. Furthermore, whether intentionally or not, the facts known from biographies are distorted to fit this view. Firstly, the film makes Albert’s stuttering appear far worse than it was; it only occurred in public speaking, not in private conversation. If the subtle Oxford stutter endears a snob to the average person, then the filmic portrayal of Albert’s stutter seems bent on melting even Oliver Cromwell’s heart. Secondly, it is true that Albert was a sensitive child who was subjected to the cruelties of contemporary pedagogy (such as being left with nannies, having to learn to use the right hand instead of the left, correction of knock knees with splints etc.), but these were common in upper class families at the time. Whatever physical and psychological harm they caused, it was not necessarily stuttering. Thirdly, certainly even a royal prince was not spared painful ridicule of his affliction, perhaps even from family. The film makes Albert’s father and brother appear as beastly bullies. But in actual fact, Albert and Edward had a friendly relationship, and George disapproved of Edward’s libertinism much more than he was embarrassed about Albert’s shortcomings, even wishing Albert and not Edward would succeed him on the throne. These changes align all too neatly with Freudian ideas that stuttering is connected with a fear of paternal authority originating in the anal phase. References to anality abound in the film: Lionel’s first appearance is accompanied by the sound of a flushing toilet, and as one of the dramatic center pieces, Albert shouts expletives, especially of the fecal variety, during a therapy session. This is portrayed as an act of liberation from familial and cultural repression and hence literally as regaining his freedom of speech.

These pseudo-explanations are obviously not merely regarded as contemporary misconceptions, because they are directly connected with the actual therapeutic progress. Despite his interest in shell-shock, one which Freud happens to have shared, Logue seems to have employed physical techniques rather than psychological ones. In contemporary newspaper reports, he even stressed that his royal patient’s affliction was physical rather than psychological. This might be regarded as motivated by the intent to dispel any doubts about sanity or intelligence, but there is also the fact to consider that progress was much more rapid than the usual duration of psychoanalysis, another fact that the film misrepresents, even though it does depict techniques such as breathing exercises, etc. Incidentally, the film claims that the therapy was kept secret, perhaps to emphasize the general atmosphere of repression.

The film delivers the coup de grâce not only to its own credibility, but probably contrary to its intention also to the psychoanalytic explanations it expounds, in a scene of a therapy session that is portrayed as the pivotal one. With great emotion, stammering so badly as to be almost unable to speak at all, even though what he relates took place before his conscious recollection so that he could only have heard it from others, Albert tells Lionel that as an infant, he had a nanny who pinched him, so that he would cry when presented to his parents, and afterwards she refused to breastfeed him, which caused his stomach problems, and, it is implied, also his stuttering. That bad breastfeeding causes stuttering is another myth that long predates psychoanalysis. It is true that Albert had chronic stomach problems. The story about the nanny is also true – but it was Edward and not Albert that was the target of her sadistic game. One cannot help but wonder if the filmmakers, among them screenwriter David Seidler, who suffers from stuttering himself, unknowingly misrepresent such facts due to an overzealous devotion to psychoanalysis, or whether they knowingly distort them to tap into the appeal of the “talking cure”, which Hollywood has done as much to promote as Freud.

But it doesn’t end here. The film goes on to connect this personal story with public, political events. As many reviewers have pointed out, Churchill supported Edward and not Albert to the last, and simply out of personal sympathy, not due to differences in political views. Edward’s flirtation with fascism may have been more of a fetishistic sort (probably stuff for a much more sensational psychoanalytic “case study”), but Albert was just as supportive of appeasement. In a notorious gesture, he invited Neville Chamberlain for a public appearance on the royal balcony immediately after his return from the Munich conference in 1938, without the parliament’s prior approval. By contrast, the film makes Albert appear fully aware of the danger and this even part of his motivation to overcome his problems. In reality, he had managed his stutter relatively well many years before the abdication crisis. Hence the personal struggle is aligned with the greater good, and both triumph together, in the fashion of old-fashioned melodrama. It is a fictionalization of reality that makes it all look much too neat. Certainly, that is precisely the reason for its appeal.

Nevertheless, what I still enjoyed and enthusiastically applaud is the most British contribution to this very American film, and that is the acting. British acting is still the finest in the world, and the cast includes several fine actors. The fact that stuttering can’t be learned by empathizing with its causes and consequences, but only like a foreign language, and that Firth does it so convincingly, is a tribute to “outside in” approaches rather than “inside out” approaches (such as “The Method”). Hence, the acting escapes or transcends the excessive psychologization of the narrative, and celebrates the beauty and the power of bodies and speech – flaws and all. This is extremely enjoyable and moving and would have been more than enough for me. In the long run, this might also have done activism against the stigmatization of stuttering a better service than the film’s factual distortions. Alas, in the last instance, the play’s the thing to capture the conscience of the audience. All too often, the filmmakers’ expectations extend no further than the box office dollar on opening weekends. Some films have a more lasting appeal though, and if the prizes lavished on it are any indication, this seems to be one of them. But despite the references to Shakespeare, it is at best comparable to a fairy tale (in particular, THE LITTLE PRINCE comes to mind). Significantly, Seidler’s previous efforts have been children’s stories. If only he had left the “adult” concerns out of this one.

Annemone Ligensa recently completed her PhD in Theater, Film and Television Studies at the University of Cologne, Germany. She is currently employed in the research project “Visual Communities: Relationships of the Local, National, and Global in Early Cinema”.

Book Review – Siri Hustvedt. The Shaking Woman, or A History of My Nerves (Picador 2010)

By Mikhal Dekel

Siri Hustvedt begins to shake uncontrollably when she delivers a talk in honor of her father two and a half years after his death. She shakes violently from the neck down (her mother later tells her it looked like an electrocution) but manages to deliver her talk without a flaw, her linguistic faculties and facial expression apparently unaffected. The seizure is followed by a few subsequent seizures, followed by an overwhelming dread of more seizures. In what Hustvedt describes as “a quest for mastery” over the foreign assault on her otherwise highly composed, non-anxious, linguistically sophisticated self, the novelist embarks on an intellectual journey in search of a diagnosis. But the questions she asks on this journey soon turn larger and larger, pushing her towards the philosophical: What is the relationship between body and mind? Is there an unconscious? How different are dreams and flashbacks from explicit memories? Is she “the shaking woman,” or is the shaking woman external to her, a double, or a cut-off part of her contained, core self? Need the shaking woman be reckoned with or must she be obliterated with medical treatment?

Hustvedt’s deft quest for answers sends her traveling across a slew of disciplines: psychiatry, neurology, psychoanalysis, pharmacology, philosophy, and narrative medicine. She visits each discipline, citing famous case studies and considering a possible diagnosis (Hysteria? Conversion disorder? Repression? Epilepsy?), then quickly moves to expose the blind spots that fall outside the scope of each epistemological framework. As a non-specialist, Hustvedt (who holds a PhD in English and has published several novels and essays) is the highly intelligent lay explorer who isn’t bound by the yoke of any single discipline or point of view. She allows herself to transgress the boundaries between and within disciplines, traversing not only horizontally but also diachronically to what Foucault had called their “point-zero,” the moment in which neurology is forever dissociated from psychiatry (the first would heal the brain, the latter the mind) and psychoanalysis turns from the science that the young neurologist Sigmund Freud had first envisioned it as into a “talking cure.” This bird’s eye view allows Hustvedt not only to critique the limited scope of the highly specialized disciplines, but also to salvage the reputation of the late nineteenth century giants that have fallen out of favor with the medical establishment: Freud, Janet, Charcot. Freud, Hustvedt maintains, took the fateful turn towards psychological explanations of the mind only after he decided that the knowledge of neural processes available to him at the time was insufficient for developing a biological model of the mind; but the scientific origin of Freud’s thought has been forgotten (repressed?) by practitioners of psychoanalysis, as well as by neurologists and psychiatrists who, exposed to not a word of Freud in the course of their training, are prone to adopt Freud’s popular image as a mystic thinker whose theories emerged out of the decidedly un-empirical air of his imagination.

Hustvedt sets out to critique the specialized disciplines but also to make peace between them. She is at her best when she draws original links between seemingly unrelated doctors, patients and theories, situating types of dissociative conditions like multiple personality disorder and traumatic flashbacks side by side, fancying the case of Janet’s famous patient Irene as a precedent to her own case, or identifying the brain-damaged patient at the center of the Russian neurologist A. R. Luria’s The Man with a Shattered World as the unacknowledged precedent to a paper published in a 1994 issue of Brain. Her flexible, wide lens, it is implied, allows Hustvedt to see links that the highly professionalized contributors to Brain cannot.

The glue that holds all of this intellectual heavy-lifting together – though occasionally parts do not quite stick – is Hustvedt’s personal story: the progression of her shaking condition, early childhood memories that had shaped her, the history of her migraines, and her relationship both to her deceased father and to her (barely mentioned) mother, the big elephant in the room around which Hustvedt circles but never explores at length.

Something of an inherent contradiction underlies this fascinating, challenging and at times moving book, a contradiction which is symptomatic of our age: Hustvedt’s quest into the far reaches of medicine and psychology is driven both by fascination with and a deep distrust of the medical and psychological professions. Reportedly reading Freud since she was sixteen, she has never been in analysis; in lieu of medical attention to her seizure, she visits an imaginary psychoanalyst (summarizing the imagined course of treatment in one paragraph), then an imaginary neurologist, who sends her for an imaginary CAT Scan (no noticeable change in the brain is detected). In place of a doctor Hustvedt reads and reads and reads all those books and specialized journals that once were accessible only to the white robes but are now available at the stroke of a keyboard to a New York based novelist or any grandmother in Texas. When reading fails to bring about a conclusive diagnosis or end the shaking episodes, Hustvedt turns to a psychiatrist “friend”; the friend refers her to a neurologist, who refers her to a pharmacologist, with whom she finally makes an appointment. But then she cancels, choosing instead to self-medicate on the beta-blocker Inderal, which suspends the external shaking but does not alleviate her inner tremor. In the last pages of her memoir, Hustvedt decides to begin analysis, but this is where the book tellingly ends.

It is striking in this respect to consider the stark difference between the hermeneutics of suspicion, and the rapid transitions and conjunctures that characterize this work by a contemporary American writer, and the lengthy, painstaking recording of thirty years worth of minute observations, which makes up the Russian Luria’s 1973 study. At times her expansiveness works against Hustvedt: one cannot, after all, read everything (she overlooks, for example, Richard McNally’s recent study of trauma memory, which contradicts much of what she says about fragmented, involuntary memory). At times she also hammers her critique a bit too hard (as when she launches, near the end of the book, an intense critique of constructivism, a dead horse for sometime now). Nonetheless, Hustvedt offers the reader a unique and impressive synthesis of multiple intellectual threads, woven into the story of her shaking with lucid, exquisite prose (“Over time [Freud’s] thoughts about the psychic apparatus would both change and evolve, but he would never be able to sink his theories into the nervous system, where he knew its processes originated”). In passionately arguing for a holistic, humane take on the individual as body and soul, consciousness and unconsciousness, composure and abandon, Hustvedt situates herself within a lineage that dates back to earlier female critics of rationalistic practices like Martha Nussbaum and Patricia Williams, but also, going even further back in time, to Freud and Janet.

Mikhal Dekel is an Associate Professor of English at the City College of New York, where she teaches courses on trauma, memory, emotions and culture. She is the author of The Universal Jew: Masculinity, Modernity and the Zionist Moment (Northwestern UP, 2010)

Review – Transnational Psychiatries: Social and Cultural Histories of Psychiatry in Comparative Perspective c. 1800-2000. Editors: Waltraud Ernst and Thomas Mueller (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010)

By Yumi Kim

Rallying cries for more comparative and transnational histories have resounded for the past two decades. Even so, it has not been easy for the sub-field of the history of psychiatry to break out of the conceptual framework of the singular nation-state. But change is in the air. In Transnational Psychiatries: Social and Cultural Histories of Psychiatry in Comparative Perspective c. 1800-2000, editors Waltraud Ernst and Thomas Mueller present a compilation of eleven historical case studies that track psychiatric encounters and exchanges of all kinds—people, ideas, institutions, and materialsacross geo-cultural regions as far-flung as South America, Asia and Europe. It is the first of its kind. Other recent volumes about psychiatry in an international context have simply juxtaposed chapters focused on single nations or included a few comparative studies.[i] In contrast, every chapter of Transnational Psychiatries engages with at least one methodology of comparative history: systematic comparison, transfer, shared history, histoire croisée (crossed history), and transnational history. The themes examined include the transfer of treatment practices and institutional regimes; the impact of war and politics on psychiatric discourse; cultural meanings of psychiatric terms; circulation of anti-alienists’ views; and local forms of patient care. The result is a stimulating introduction to the complexities of exploring the history of psychiatry from a truly global perspective.

The study of psychiatry in colonial settings in particular lends itself well to studies of the transnational circulation of knowledge, as demonstrated in the respective chapters by Waltraud Ernst and Jacqueline Leckie on the Indian Mental Hospital at Ranchi in the 1920s to 1940s and the institutionalization of the mentally ill in Fiji at the turn of the twentieth century. The development of psychiatry in the British colonies, they suggest, was not influenced exclusively (or even primarily) by information flowing in from the metropole; rather, psychiatry took on global dimensions. The Superintendent of Ranchi, J.E. Dhunjibhoy, for instance, implemented the latest therapies that first appeared in internationally circulated journals, corresponded with leading psychiatrists in continental Europe, and toured mental hospitals in North America. And Leckie reminds us that psychiatry in the colonies was also “local,” entangled in indigenous conceptions of madness and concerns of the community. Ernst and Leckie’s studies also prompt further questions about the directions in which ideas were transferred: did knowledge developed in the colonies travel back to the metropole? How did psychiatric practices in one colony (Fiji) affect those in another (New Caledonia)?

Four other chapters also address the process of historical “transfer,” or how material objects and expert knowledge were adapted and reconstructed within different socio-cultural contexts. Junko Kitanaka writes about the varied meanings of depression in Japan while Akira Hashimoto explores how the model of psychiatric foster family care in the Flemish town of Gheel made its way into Japan in the early twentieth century. Akihito Suzuki also addresses Japanese psychiatry in the 1920s and 1930s by examining the adaptation of shock therapies in vogue at the time. In another chapter, Yolanda Eraso analyzes academic exchanges between German and Argentinean doctors that resulted in the establishment of work therapy for mentally ill patients in Argentina. These chapters, like those of Ernst and Leckie, highlight the global dimensions of psychiatric exchanges in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although these case studies unfortunately tend to reinforce the assumption that ideas were almost always disseminated from the West to the East and the South, they do begin to reveal how such ideas and practices were transformed, generalized, or abandoned in extra-European settings. These chapters encourage us to trace the dynamic of changing relations between various parts of the world.

This volume also recasts well-known national histories of psychiatry in a new comparative light. Through the systematic comparison of European nations, contributors Thomas Mueller, Catherine Fussinger, and Annick Ohayon demonstrate the distinct—if parallel—national paths followed by different psychiatric institutions and professionals in the past century. Mueller compares the development of psychiatric family care in Belgium, France, and Germany from the 1880s to 1980s. Psychiatric family care had been practiced in all three countries but in the course of the twentieth century, as a result of National Socialist health policies, Germany abandoned family-care entirely until the mid-1980s, whereas in France and Belgium family care provision returned immediately after liberation from German occupation. In their chapter, Fussinger and Ohayon compare the reception of psychoanalysis in Switzerland and France in the 1950s, following the debate over the extent to which psychotherapy ought to figure in the training of psychiatrists. They untangle issues of professional autonomy, institutional recognition, and local politics in order to explain how psychotherapy became formally recognized as an integral part of psychiatry in Switzerland, but was considered optional training for psychiatrists in France.

At their best, comparative and transnational histories track the movement of objects, people, and ideas in a way that undermines stark binaries—East-West, colony-metropole, elite-subaltern—and ultimately enables us to see modernity as the multifaceted and multidirectional process that it always has been. Transnational Psychiatries helps us take a step in that direction, even though at times some of its contributors continue to use an inherited vocabulary of binaries or trace the movement of knowledge in one direction only. As a whole, this innovative volume reminds us that even when the nation-state is a logical unit of analysis to explain some developments in the history of psychiatry, such “national” stories cannot be told without reference to larger international political and cultural contexts.

Yumi Kim is a PhD student in the Department of History at Columbia University. She specializes in the history of mental illness in modern Japan.


[i] R. Porter and D. Wright, The Confinement of the Insane: International Perspectives, 1800-1965 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); M. Gijswijt-Hofstra, H. Oosterhuis, J. Vijselaar and H. Freeman (eds), Psychiatric Cultures Compared: Psychiatry and Mental Health Care in the Twentieth Century: Comparisons and Approaches (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005); R. Bivins and J.V. Pickstone (eds), Medicine, Madness and Social History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); L. Topp, J. Moran and J. Andrews (eds), Madness, Architecture and the Built Environment: Psychiatric Spaces in Historical Context (London and New York: Routledge, 2007); and S. Mahone and M. Vaughan (eds), Psychiatry and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Cornell University Richardson History of Psychiatry Seminar Spring 2011

The Richardson History of Psychiatry Research Seminar

Convenes on the 1st & 3rd Wednesdays from September through May
2:00 PM Baker Tower Conference Room F-1200

 

January 5
Susan Lamb, Ph.D., Post-Doctoral Fellow, Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University “Social Science: The Schizophrenic Reaction Type in Meyerian Psychiatry”
February 2
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Independent Author “Lincoln’s Melancholy”
February 16
Siovahn Walker, Ph.D., Director, Council for European Studies, Columbia University “Positive Psychology as a Translational Frame for Understanding Medieval Psychology”
March 2
Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Mount Sinai Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease Research; Associate Director, Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center “Alzheimer’s Disease from Auguste Deter to the Amyloid Hypothesis and Beyond”
March 16
Hilary J. Beattie, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology, Columbia University “Autobiography and Psychoanalysis Revisited: How have psychoanalysts told their own lives?”
April 6
Mary Karr, Peck Professor of Literature, Syracuse University “Truth and Lies in Memoir: How Socrates ‘Know Thyself’ Makes Literature, Not Jerry Springer TV”
April 20
Eslee Samberg, M.D., & Elizabeth Auchincloss, M.D., Weill Medical College of Cornell University “Psychoanalytic Lexicography: Notes from two ‘harmless drudges'”
May 4
Richard Wolin, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science, The Graduate Center, City University of New York “The Peregrinations of French Anti-Psychiatry”
May 18
Harry Trosman, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago “William Hazlitt and Obsessive Love” Esman Lecture

* PLEASE NOTE: Space is limited. Attendance by permission only.

 

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