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Rewriting the Soul

Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory

Ian Hacking
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Rewriting the Soul
    Book Description:

    Twenty-five years ago one could list by name the tiny number of multiple personalities recorded in the history of Western medicine, but today hundreds of people receive treatment for dissociative disorders in every sizable town in North America. Clinicians, backed by a grassroots movement of patients and therapists, find child sexual abuse to be the primary cause of the illness, while critics accuse the "MPD" community of fostering false memories of childhood trauma. Here the distinguished philosopher Ian Hacking uses the MPD epidemic and its links with the contemporary concept of child abuse to scrutinize today's moral and political climate, especially our power struggles about memory and our efforts to cope with psychological injuries.

    What is it like to suffer from multiple personality? Most diagnosed patients are women: why does gender matter? How does defining an illness affect the behavior of those who suffer from it? And, more generally, how do systems of knowledge about kinds of people interact with the people who are known about? Answering these and similar questions, Hacking explores the development of the modern multiple personality movement. He then turns to a fascinating series of historical vignettes about an earlier wave of multiples, people who were diagnosed as new ways of thinking about memory emerged, particularly in France, toward the end of the nineteenth century. Fervently occupied with the study of hypnotism, hysteria, sleepwalking, and fugue, scientists of this period aimed to take the soul away from the religious sphere. What better way to do this than to make memory a surrogate for the soul and then subject it to empirical investigation?

    Made possible by these nineteenth-century developments, the current outbreak of dissociative disorders is embedded in new political settings.Rewriting the Soulconcludes with a powerful analysis linking historical and contemporary material in a fresh contribution to the archaeology of knowledge. As Foucault once identified a politics that centers on the body and another that classifies and organizes the human population, Hacking has now provided a masterful description of the politics of memory : the scientizing of the soul and the wounds it can receive.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2168-6
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    Memory is a powerful tool in quests for understanding, justice, and knowledge. It raises consciousness. It heals some wounds, restores dignity, and prompts uprisings. What better motto for automobile license plates in Québec thanJe me souviens?—I remember. Memories of the holocaust and of slavery must be passed on to new generations. Severe and repeated child abuse is said to be a cause of multiple personality disorder; the illness is to be treated through a recovery of lost memories of pain. An aging population is scared of Alzheimer’s disease, which it regards as a disease of memory. In a...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Is It Real?
    (pp. 8-20)

    As long ago as 1982 psychiatrists were talking about “the multiple personality epidemic.”¹ Yet those were early days. Multiple personality—whose “essential feature is the existence within the individual of two or more distinct personalities, each of which is dominant at a particular time”—became an official diagnosis of the American Psychiatric Association only in 1980.² Clinicians were still reporting occasional cases as they appeared in treatment. Soon the number of patients would become so overwhelming that only statistics could give an impression of the field.

    Ten years earlier, in 1972, multiple personality had seemed to be a mere curiosity....

  6. CHAPTER 2 What Is It Like?
    (pp. 21-38)

    What is it like to be a multiple? The formal criteria of the diagnostic manuals are too impersonal. Nineteenth-century patients with “double consciousness” fit the criteria, but their experience, their ways of getting on (or not), the resulting family and social life—all those are quite unlike the life of a modern multiple. To start with, there was usually only one well-defined alter; today, sixteen alters is the norm. In France, a century or so ago, cases of doubling had the symptoms then associated with florid hysteria—partial paralyses, partial anesthesia, intestinal bleeding, restricted field of vision. English cases of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Movement
    (pp. 39-54)

    We have been familiar with psychological “movements” ever since madness was medicalized, and certainly since the advent of psychoanalysis. No one hesitates to speak of the movement founded and orchestrated by Sigmund Freud. Multiplicity has no founding and controlling parent, but if ever there was a movement, it is the multiple personality movement. It has a rather fresh, American quality to it. It appeals to down-home folks, who are much more at ease with the bizarre than city slickers are. Although the professional organization, the International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation, was established by psychiatrists (M.D.’s)...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Child Abuse
    (pp. 55-68)

    Child abuse made sense of multiplicity. Most multiples, according to recent theorizing, dissociated when they were little children. That was their way to cope with early terror and pain, usually in the form of or accompanied by sexual abuse. Before we see how this etiology became an item of faith, amply confirmed by clinical experience, we should consider the trajectory of the very idea of child abuse itself. For it is not a transparent idea that we all understand as soon as we think about it, notice examples of it, or recall having experienced it. You might think that the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Gender
    (pp. 69-80)

    Nine out of ten patients who have been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder are women. The same proportion is observed in old cases of double consciousness or alternating personality. I do not claim the latter as a statistical fact, because it depends whom you count. One survey finds a larger proportion of males among old reports than I do.¹ But whatever proportion one fixes on, the majority of multiples are female. Why?

    There is another question about gender and multiple personality. Multiples now develop a large number of alter personalities or personality fragments, some of whom are of the opposite...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Cause
    (pp. 81-95)

    “Never in the history of psychiatry have we ever come to know so well the specific etiology of a major illness, its natural course, its treatment.” This remarkable statement was made in 1989 by Richard Loewenstein, when he was president of the ISSMP&D.¹ In the course of twenty years an illness had passed from being virtually unknown to being better understood than any other mental malady.

    Etiology is defined as that branch of medicine which deals with the causes or origins of disease. Causation matters to the practitioner because the most effective treatment of a disease usually relies on a...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Measure
    (pp. 96-112)

    An illness becomes an object of knowledge when it is identified, as its causes are discovered, and as methods of prevention, treatment, or cure are developed. Measurement is a second route to knowledge, and the two routes cross. For example, the causal story about multiple personality is bolstered by measurements used to establish that dissociation comes in degrees, so that children with a strong innate predisposition to dissociate may use that as a device to cope with trauma. Thus Putnam writes that “central to the concept of the adaptive function(s) of dissociation is the idea that dissociative phenomena exist on...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Truth in Memory
    (pp. 113-127)

    Tolstoy famously observed that all happy families are more or less alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way. Today he might revise the second part of that judgment if he were to come across families torn by memories recovered in therapy, adults’ memories of child abuse and incest perpetrated by now-aging parents, memories denied as false, impossible, incoherent, by the elders. Many of these families seem to be unhappy in almost exactly the same way. The families look and perhaps become alike because they learn a new language and a new set of emotions. Hence...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Schizophrenia
    (pp. 128-141)

    In the next part of the book we move into the past, settling, for a while, in the period 1874–1886. That was when a wave of multiplicity swept over France, when the sciences of memory firmed up, and when the idea of trauma, previously used only for a bodily wound or lesion, came also to apply to psychic hurt. My aim will be to understand the underlying configuration of knowledge that simultaneously brought into being the sciences of memory, psychic trauma, and multiple personality. It will ease the transition to mention a few aspects of the period between then...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Before Memory
    (pp. 142-158)

    Multiple personality has been specifically Western, peculiar to the industrialized world, and consistently diagnosed in only this or that region and then only for a few decades at a time. It may nevertheless be a local manifestation of something universal: trance. People go into trance states in almost every society. We must be cautious about that, because “trance” is a Western word, a European concept used by anthropologists. From the Arctic Circle to the Cape of Good Hope, travelers encounter what seems to them to be similar behavior. Maybe “trance” is itself only a symptom of how Western eyes see...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Doubling of the Personality
    (pp. 159-170)

    It was “in the spring of 1875, in the course of a conversation on thebizarreriesof memory,” that Eugène Azam first told the story of the classic French double, Félida X. Somnambulism had been a topic for medical expertise and folklore for millennia. There had been trickles of interest in double consciousness and spontaneous somnambulism throughout the nineteenth century. But there was never any systematic study of multiple personality before Azam.¹

    Allow me to make you acquainted with Félida. She is a very remarkable personage who has played a rather important part in the history of ideas. Do not...

  16. CHAPTER 12 The Very First Multiple Personality
    (pp. 171-182)

    Multiple means more than two. Neither double consciousness nordédoublementwas multiple personality. Advocates of the diagnosis of multiple personality will want to say that Félida had more than two alters; we have intimations of as many as five. Under a different type of treatment all might have flourished; they might have been clues to Félida’s underlying distress. But if we ask about what was, rather than what might have been, Félida had exactly two alternating personalities. That was how she was thought of, described, talked about, treated by her family, and regarded by her neighbors. That was how she...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Trauma
    (pp. 183-197)

    Traumatic events, traumatic experiences—we know what they are: psychological blows, wounds to the spirit. Severe trauma early in life may irrevocably damage the development of a child. Trauma is psychic hurt. The word has become a metaphor for almost anything unpleasant: “That was really traumatic!” Previously “trauma” had been a surgeons’ word. It referred to a wound on the body, most often the result of battle. It still has that old meaning. A trauma center deals with the immediate effects of accidents. It tries to stanch the flow of blood, attend to smashed bones or brains; its hope is...

  18. CHAPTER 14 The Sciences of Memory
    (pp. 198-209)

    I now wish to advance four theses. They are difficult in themselves; their interconnections are yet more difficult. Here and in the next chapter I propose a way in which to understand the events I have been describing, both old and recent. Here are the theses, in capsule form.

    1. The sciences of memory were new in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and with them came new kinds of truths-or-falsehoods, new kinds of facts, new objects of knowledge.

    2. Memory, already regarded as a criterion of personal identity, became a scientific key to the soul, so that by investigating memory...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Memoro-Politics
    (pp. 210-220)

    It has become commonplace to speak of a politics of this or that or almost anything. Such generous usage strips the word of much meaning. But talk of a politics of memory is no metaphor. The confrontations between the False Memory Syndrome Foundation and various schools of recovered memory therapy are plainly political. The annual “drumming out child abuse” in Washington, at the Eastern Meeting of the ISSMP&D, is a political manifesto. Conference attendees are urged to bring drums, and, of a spring evening, demonstrate in order to influence lawmakers. The professed target of this event is child abuse, but...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Mind and Body
    (pp. 221-233)

    Does multiple personality matter to metaphysics? I do not think so. Metaphysics asks: What is a person, a soul, a self? It does not ask who I am, but what I am. What constitutes me as a person? One answer is well known to English empirical philosophy, for it is at least as old as John Locke. It is almost part of the general culture today: a person is constituted by consciousness and memory. Here is how it crops up in a popular science magazine: “The ability to retrieve a memory decays exponentially, and after only a month more than...

  21. CHAPTER 17 An Indeterminacy in the Past
    (pp. 234-257)

    It will be good to conclude in a more analytic vein. Multiple personality, I argued, has nothing to teach philosophers about mind and body. But philosophical analysis, of an almost grammatical sort, may help us with memory and multiplicity. The title of the present chapter means what it says, which is hard, because we think of the past as fixed, final, and determined. I am not about to address that banal topic, the indeterminacy of memory. I mean an indeterminacy about what people actually did, not about what we remember them doing. I mean an indeterminacy about what people actually...

  22. CHAPTER 18 False Consciousness
    (pp. 258-268)

    Does it matter whether what we seem to remember really happened, more or less as we remember it? In daily life it matters most of the time. I thought I left my wallet in my raincoat pocket; it’s not there. Panic. I (seem to) remember loaning you my copy of Putnam’s book. Oh. I’m sorry, I loaned it to Lisa; I was confused. But what about seeming memories of long ago? They matter when our beliefs affect other people. That is the point of the false memory polemics. If someone cuts off all contact with her family, because she wrongly...

  23. Notes
    (pp. 269-296)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-328)
  25. Index
    (pp. 329-336)