Archive for March, 2011

Lecture – Joan Wallach Scott: “Psychoanalysis and History”

The Third Annual History and Theory Lecture:

“Psychoanalysis and History”
Joan Wallach Scott, Institute for Advanced Study
Commentator: Ben Kafka, New York University

Monday, 4 April 2011 6:15pm
209 Havemeyer Hall

Columbia University Campus

Sponsored by the Consortium for Intellectual and Cultural History
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cich/

Sponsored by the Heyman Center for the Humanities

http://www.heymancenter.org

This event is free and open to the public.

No tickets or registration necessary.
Seating is on a first come, first served basis.
Click the following link for the location of Havemeyer Hall:

New Issue – Revue d’histoire des sciences

The latest issue of the Revue d’histoire des sciences is dedicated to neurosciences and includes the following articles.

La plasticité cérébrale de Cajal à Kandel : cheminement d’une notion constitutive du sujet cérébral by Marion Droz Mendelzweig. The abstract reads:

The plasticity of the brain is an operative concept in contemporary neuroscience. An inquiry into the emergence of this notion and its evolution in the field of studies on the brain shows that it is neither an attribute nor an invention of contemporary neuroscience. An analysis of the trajectory of the notion from the end of the 19th century to present serves here to bring out the mechanics of the construction of scientific knowledge.

Relations médecine – sciences dans l’individualisation des maladies nerveuses à la Salpêtrière à la fin du XIXe siècle by Jean-Gaël Barbara. The abstract reads:

In the second half of the 19th century, at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, clinical and anatomopathological researches established new interactions between practices, scientific theories and medical research, in the specific domains of nosography and pathogeny of the diseases of the nervous system. We seek to understand how the rise of microscopy, the acceptance of cell theory, experimental pathology, progress in histology, and the neuron doctrine, could combine with the autonomous field of the clinic and interact through a mutually beneficial process of legitimization, exchange and constructive criticism.

La définition d’une entité clinique entre développements techniques et spécialisation médicale : épilepsie et épileptologie au XXe siècle by Céline Cherici. The abstract reads:

Until the 30s the medicine of epilepsy, based on the conceptions of John H. Jackson, was still given to conjectures, both at the nosological and pathogenical levels. We propose to show how epileptology took shape during the 20th century with the renewal of surgery and the development of electroencephalographical techniques. By studying the achievements of the school of Marseille, we shall emphasize how from the 50s on epileptic disorders became the subject of a specific medical field.

Expérimentation et clinique électroencéphalographiques entre physiologie, neurologie et psychiatrie (Suisse, 1935-1965) by Vincent Pidoux. The abstract reads:

 

The electroencephalogram (EEG), invented by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger in 1924, reached the neurophysiological laboratories and several clinical contexts in the mid-30s. In Switzerland, some skeptical physiologists and enthusiastic psychiatrists paved the way for its integration, but it was only after the Second World War that an emerging field of epileptology became part of a process of technological and epistemological innovation which raised great expectations and produced a large body of research at the crossroads of physiology, neurology and psychiatry. An informal network was created, characterized by clinical, scientific and local institutional cultures. The EEG also made it possible to detect some clinical entities, not however without transforming them, as in the case of epilepsy. Some attempts to probe psychiatric diseases and subjects with the EEG are described as negotiated relationships between clinical observations, subjective manifestations or symptoms and inscriptions of a spontaneous or elicited electrical brain activity. These attempts shape a clinical and experimental cerebral subject, which is analyzed in this article from the point of view of its technical aspects and the concrete procedures on which it depends.

Review: Paris-Exposition : Sous le vent de l’Art Brut

Montrer la douleur, réenchanter le monde : l’art des « fous » et d’autres « primitifs » à la Halle Saint Pierre (Paris)

Au rez-de-chaussée de la Halle Saint Pierre, une femme-poisson aux pieds de tête de mouton nous regarde des ses cinq yeux bleus grand ouverts. L’auteur de ce portrait est un des 49 créateurs représentés dans l’exposition « Sous le vent de l’art brut », qui rassemble une petite partie de la collection de Charlotte Zander, abritée au Château de Bönningheim. Sava Sekulic (1902-1989), maçon croate devenu une des figures les plus respectées dans les cercles internationaux de l’art naïf, nous montre des êtres en pleine métamorphose, figures à la fois tristes et fantastiques qu’on dirait avoir posé un moment devant le peintre avant de continuer leur transformation invraisemblable. C’est notamment le cas de cet homme-femme aux bras de pieuvre sous lequel on lit « Krake se transforme en femme et s’autodétruit » (1974) (voir figure). Si cette image peut évoquer la métamorphose aux mille bras solaires du président Schreber, contrairement aux mémoires du « névroptahe » le plus célèbre de l’histoire de la psychiatrie, elle ne prétend pas représenter une expérience subjective. C’est donc bien le fil de l’imaginaire – de notre imaginaire, bien entendu – qui semble constituer le principe de regroupement des œuvres de cet artiste et d’autres « naïfs » avec celles des créateurs présentés au titre de malades mentaux. Il y a ici déjà de quoi intéresser les historiens et anthropologues de la psychiatrie et de la maladie mentale, mais non moins les sociologues de « nos » pratiques culturelles.

Cet « art brut » qu’on nous présente c’est, bien sûr, le coup de pinceau qui ne se détachera jamais de son geste, violent ou obsessionnel et calligraphique, mais aussi les personnages amphibies d’une quelconque mythologie privée. C’est le désespoir du cri étouffé, se déployant en traits de crayon autour des yeux, et le monde spectral des silhouettes trouées ; c’est l’excès décoratif d’un objet détaché et inerte, et celui du frontispice d’un temple de marbre qui manque peut-être de dieux et d’autel ; c’est la démesure du rêve devenu un peu trop réel (ou l’inverse), et un désir si fort qu’il renverse le corps. C’est l’envers du sexe. C’est la ville serrée, minutieusement chaotique, de la masse. Ou tout simplement les bateaux à vapeur promis de l’enfance qui se déchainent sur le papier, mus par un cataclysme insaisissable. Lieux d’expression, parfois d’inscription, d’une souffrance, ou d’un désir de réenchanter le monde, ces travaux ont pourtant des mobiles variés. Certains cherchent à communiquer des visions intérieures, la peinture s’assumant comme acte mystique (Robert Saint-Brice ; 1898-1973 ; Scottie Wilson, 1888-1972; Séraphine de Senlis, 1864-1942 ; Fleury-Joseph Crepin, 1875-1948 ; Madge Gill, 1882-1961) ; d’autres construisent des villes imaginaires (Adolf Wölfli, 1864-1930 ; Willem Van Genk, 1927-2005 ; Préfète Duffaut, 1923-) ou des langages secrets (Auguste Walla, 1936-2001). D’autres encore cherchent à montrer des douleurs (Rosemarie Koczy, 1939-2007 ; Michel Nedjar, 1947-) ; mettent en scène des peuplades désincarnées (Carlo Zinelli, 1916-1974 ; Oswald Tschirtner, 1920-2007), ou analysent des désirs ingérables (Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, 1892-1982).

Il s’agit, en général, d’une production de gens très pauvres, ayant collectionné des petits métiers le long de leur vies anonymes, ainsi que des séjours en maisons correctionnelles et dans des hôpitaux psychiatriques. Ces gens n’étaient pas censés prétendre faire de l’art, vu leur instruction (souvent des illettrés), leur sexe (un nombre considérable de femmes) et leur âge (pas rarement, des vieux). D’ailleurs – nous dit-on – ils n’ont jamais prétendu faire de l’art, et encore moins la vendre à bon prix. C’est pour tout cela, d’ailleurs, que c’est bien de l’« art brut ». Proposé par Jean Dubuffet, le concept vise à regrouper les expressions plastiques des créateurs en marge des institutions d’apprentissage artistique, de leurs codes et des circuits marchands. Bref, le vent de l’art brut rassemble les créateurs ne pouvant pas se construire une « position d’artiste », comme on lit dans l’introduction du catalogue signée par Jean-Louis Lanoux. Se référent à une création éminemment spontanée et pulsionnelle, « art brut » serait ainsi l’étiquette des arts sans étiquette. Il comprendrait, en quelque sorte, de l’art qui vaut « par sa valeur intrinsèque », comme on lit dans un autre texte d’introduction du catalogue (signée par Martine Lusardy). Des œuvres irréductibles à des codes esthétiques partagés, absolues dans leur singularité, ces travaux nous montreraient, néanmoins, selon le même Lanoux, que « n’en déplaise à ceux de ses partisans [de l’art brut] qui voudraient y voir avant tout un symbole de révolte contre l’ordre social ou un signe de renouveau métaphysique, force est de constater que l’art brut – du moins dans son expression la plus radicale – fait surtout preuve de soumission à des forces qui nous dépassent et qui nous gouvernent. (p. 16) » Or, sans nécessairement prendre le parti du mouvement de Dubuffet et de ses divers avatars – art naïf, médiumnique, psychopathologique, surréaliste – dont le discours de l’authenticité retrouvée dans un art « non culturel » me parait équivoque, force est plutôt de constater que ces travaux expriment soit des souffrances qui nous sont facilement reconnaissables, et donc sans doute des souffrances sociales, soit des désirs de libération à coloration métaphysique et religieuse, parfois politique. Libérer le monde d’un réel de plomb qui voile et écrase un essentiel, c’est dans ces cas le mot d’ordre. « Dieu m’a donné mission de créer une œuvre pour les gens simples et reconnaissants de sa puissance et de sa création. Des gens qui croient en l’existence de l’Etre suprême. Un Dieu que l’on prie et dont la création devient visible, à travers mes dessins », écrit une des artistes exposées, Margarethe Held (1894-1981) (cité in « Sous le vent de l’art brut… », p. 72). Que les unes et les autres sont difficilement appropriables dans le cadre d’une révolution ou d’une philosophie politique c’est une évidence, mais, compte tenu des conditions sociales et biographiques de production de ces œuvres, on ne peut pas nier leur qualité d’expression de révolte contre un ordre social ressenti comme oppressant. Elles parlent, avant tout, des personnes qui les ont produit. Et, puisque ce n’est pas exactement le vent qui nous apporte ces travaux, ils parlent aussi un peu de « nous », qui les rassemblons et allons les voir au musée. Mais, tout en faisant semblant de se référer à des univers autres, ces artistes portent un regard, sinon sur un autre monde possible, sans doute sur notre monde commun.

Exposition « Sous le vent de l’art brut ». Collection Charlotte Zander, Halle Saint Pierre, Musée d’Art Brut, Paris. Du 17 janvier au 26 aout 2011. Ouvrage cité : « Sous le vent de l’art brut », catalogue de l’exposition, Paris, 2010.

Tiago Pires Marques

Tiago Pires Marques is a postdoctoral fellow at CERMES3, Paris-Descartes University (Paris) and at the CEHR (Portuguese Catholic University). After focusing on the history of prisons, criminology, and forensic psychiatry, his research has been extended to the history and anthropology of psychiatry and mental illness. His main ongoing research project deals with the religious references common in psychotic experiences. His latest publication, as editor and co-author, is the issue “Michel de Certeau et l’anthropologie historique de la modernité” of the journal Revue d’histoire des sciences humaines (n. 23, 2011).

2nd Annual History of Medicine Postgraduate Summit and Call for Papers

Queen Mary, University of London,

Saturday 18th June 2011

10.00 a.m.- 5.00 p.m.

The postgraduate students of QMUL, Centre for the History of the Emotions, invite postgraduates working in the history of medicine around the country to participate in a one-day Summit. This Summit builds on the success of the first Postgraduate History of Medicine Summit held at Warwick University last year.

Our aims are:

· To develop and strengthen the UK’s Postgraduate History of Medicine Network

· To create an opportunity for postgraduates in the field to share their research

· To make plans for future Summits

In the morning, delegates will give 10-15 minute presentations on their research in small working groups. After lunch, there will be an Open Space forum to discuss the role of postgraduate students in the History of Medicine and the future of the Summit.

Lunch, refreshments and drinks will be provided.

Registration is free, but places are limited. To reserve your place, please contact Jade Shepherd, on j.shepherd@qmul.ac.uk. Bursaries may be available for students travelling from outside London.

If you would like to present your research, please submit a brief statement of 50-100 words on the subject of your talk, including your name, institution and the year of your degree, by email to Jade Shepherd by the 25th April 2011.

Queen Mary, Centre for the History of the Emotions

Mile End Road,

London, E1 4NS

http://www.qmul.ac.uk/emotions/

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.”

New Issue – Histoire des sciences médicales

Dans le dernier numéro de la revue Histoire des sciences médicales (44/2-2010), Jacqueline Vons publie un article sur le tableau “Le médecin guarissant phantassie, purgeant aussi par drogues la folie”:

Le Musée Rolin d’Autun possède un curieux tableau intitulé Le médecin guarissant phantassie, purgeant aussi par drogues la folie, de vastes dimensions ; originellement peint sur bois, il a servi d’enseigne à la pharmacie Cosseret au 20 Grand rue Chauchien, à Autun, du début du XVIIème siècle jusqu’en 1897. Une description naïve de ce que pouvaient voir les chalands de la pharmacie, inspire la peur plus que la confiance dans les traitements proposés. Dans le fond de l’officine, devant une rangée de flacons, on voit un acte “médical” comparable à une purge. À l’avant-plan, une scène qui s’apparente à une torture demande à être interprétée. La juxtaposition et le détournement d’éléments traditionnels de l’univers médical concourent à brouiller l’esprit du spectateur et à l’introduire dans un monde où le réel est perturbé. Le but de la communication est de montrer que cette image d’évacuation de la folie se réfère à des théories médicales en usage de Galien à Vésale, en même temps qu’aux représentations satiriques des pratiques de charlatans.

 

 

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”.

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