Freud Museum London: Psychoanalysis Podcasts A treasure trove of ideas in psychoanalysis. History, theory, and psychoanalytic perspectives on a diverse range of topics. www.freud.org.uk

April 4, 2017  

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William Rose’s novel The Strange Case of Madeleine Seguin is set in the rich and decadent world of the intelligentsia in Fin de Siècle Paris.

The book centres on the institution of the Salpetriere hospital. In the book the Salpetriere has progressed from its previous incarnation as a 'warehouse' for societies undesirables to a kind of human museum filled with subjects for Charcot to study. Rather than a prison, the hospital has become a laboratory for the vivisection of the hysterical mind. As theories of hysteria and female madness morph from animalistic and anatomical degeneracy to those of psychological trauma, the doctors at the Salpetriere in the novel drift towards Freudian theory. One of these young doctors named Lamond writes a letter to Freud in which he describes the unconscious as 'a veritable Salpetriere of the psyche which harbours ideas and emotional ventures we can scarce dare even think of'.

The church is another reoccurring theme in the novel, and parallels are drawn illustratively between religion and a kind of hysterical theatre. Charcot draws parallels in his studies between the behaviour of various saints and of those in the grip of a hysterical attack. Indeed, the concept of possession is present both in the occult and quasi-religious rituals that were becoming popular in the Fin de Siecle and also in the theatrical hypnotism Charcot performs on his patients at the public lectures held in the Salpetriere for the titillation of the aristocratic intelligentsia. The figure of Charcot represents the conflict between science and religion, and the church is a sinister force in the novel, providing a steady undercurrent of menace and tension which drives the plot forward and captures the attention.

Another thread of the novel is the development of the school of symbolist artists. We are introduced through a young artist to the intellectual salons of the ‘Mardistes’, including the poet Mallarme. The excursions into the artistic Parisian demi-monde add to the atmospheric milieu and set the scene which allows us to better understand the world in which these events happen. Indeed, the novel raises an interesting question over the differences between hysteria and the decadent decay into neurasthenic self-absorption.

The novel beautifully illustrates the skilfully interwoven threads of hysteria, art, the occult, and the Parisian fin de siècle demi monde and intelligentsia. Tension builds with a steady bubbling undercurrent of devil worship and the impending threat of the femme fatale. Hysteria is explored in the context of these societal factors and ideals of femininity, and this brings to mind the role of these factors and our ideals in our modern concepts of mental illness.

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George Makari, author of the international acclaimed Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysisdiscusses his latest publication, a brilliant and comprehensive history of the creation of the modern Western mind.

Soul Machine takes us back to the origins of modernity, a time when a crisis in religious authority and the scientific revolution led to searching questions about the nature of human inner life. This is the story of how a new concept―the mind―emerged as a potential solution, one that was part soul and part machine, but fully neither.

In this groundbreaking work, award-winning historian George Makari shows how writers, philosophers, physicians, and anatomists worked to construct notions of the mind as not an ethereal thing, but a natural one. From the ascent of Oliver Cromwell to the fall of Napoleon, seminal thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, Diderot, and Kant worked alongside often-forgotten brain specialists, physiologists, and alienists in the hopes of mapping the inner world. Conducted in a cauldron of political turmoil, these frequently shocking, always embattled efforts would give rise to psychiatry, mind sciences such as phrenology, and radically new visions of the self. Further, they would be crucial to the establishment of secular ethics and political liberalism. Boldly original, wide-ranging, and brilliantly synthetic, Soul Machine gives us a masterful, new account of the making of the modern Western mind.

"George Makari's brilliant, compendious "Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind" is essential reading. The story he tells so engagingly is of a vast, polyphonic argument about what it is to be a human being."
- The Wall Street Journal

"In 'Soul Machine,' George Makari presents an electrifying narrative of the intellectual debates that gave rise to the Western conception of the mind."
- The Economist

George Makari's Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis was published in 2008 to international acclaim. Makari is the director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry, professor of psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, and adjunct professor at both Rockefeller University and Columbia University's Psychoanalytic Center. He lives in New York City.

The book is available from the Freud Museum Shop.
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