Janet, Poor Law, Psychiatric Criticism, & More

The September 2012 issue of History of Psychiatry has just been released online. Included in this issue are a number of articles that may be of interest to AHP readers. Articles in the issue address the work of Pierre Janet (left) on automatic writing, the how England’s the old poor law dealt with the insane, a history of psychiatric criticism, and much more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Automatism, Surrealism and the making of French psychopathology: the case of Pierre Janet,” by Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau. The abstract reads,

This article deals with the clinical use of ‘automatic writing’ by the French psychologist Pierre Janet at the fin de siècle and its later appropriation by Surrealist poets during the inter-war period. Of special interest are the acknowledged influences of Surrealism’s leading representative. Why did André Breton, in his mythical love affair with Freudianism, systematically silence his indebtedness to the Janetian model of the mind? In order to examine this question we turn to a little-studied theme: Janet’s increasing distance from Spiritism and psychical research. In seeking to establish his new discipline within a medical framework, Janet erected barriers between the psychological sciences and such seemingly ‘extra-scientific’ fields. In so doing, he placed himself at odds with other members of the intellectual community who saw in the automatic manifestations of the mind a source of exalted creativity.

“The nature of King James VI/I’s medical conditions: new approaches to the diagnosis,” by Timothy Peters, Peter Garrard, Vijeya Ganesan, and John Stephenson. The abstract reads,

It has been claimed that King James VI/I, an antecedent of King George III, suffered from acute porphyria, and that the disease was passed on to George III through his grand-daughter Sophie, mother of George I. The life of James is reviewed and previously-proposed diagnoses are considered. James’s medical history is discussed in detail and, where possible, examined with validated symptom scales. Using an online database of neurological diseases, the authors show that James’s symptomatology is compatible with a diagnosis of Attenuated (mild) Lesch-Nyhan disease; no evidence was found to support a diagnosis of acute porphyria. In addition, there is evidence of associated Asperger traits which may explain some of the King’s unusual behavioural and psycho-social features.

“Erwin Straus and the pathic,” by L.M. Ratnapalan and David Reggio. The abstract reads,

This paper details the significance of the ‘pathic’ mode of sensing in the work of Erwin Straus, through a consideration of its origins, etymology, and relationship with the research of his close contemporaries. The ‘pathic’ describes ‘the immediately present, sensually vivid, still pre-conceptual communication we have with appearances’. Straus came to a coherent understanding of its importance through his critique of Pavlov’s laboratory experiments on the conditioned reflex, which he then developed in phenomenological case studies where he further refined his anthropology. Not simply of relevance to the history of phenomenological psychology alone, the ‘pathic’ has an urgent contemporary implication in opposing the rise of what Straus presciently termed ‘mechanomorphic’ interpretations of human behaviour.

“‘Occasionally heard to be answering voices’: aural culture and the ritual of psychiatric audition, 1877–1911,” by Kathleen M. Brian. The abstract reads,

This essay argues that historians will gain a deeper understanding of the nosological ritual and the professionals who enacted it by placing internal developments of late nineteenth-century psychiatry alongside the synchronic rise of the linguistic sciences. Doing so demonstrates that, contrary to historical consensus, what fell out of favour were traditional methods of observation rather than the practice of classification itself. Through an analysis of the aural culture at St Elizabeths Hospital (Washington, DC) between 1877 and 1911 as evidenced by patient case files and diagnostic training manuals, I focus on shifting methods of psychiatric audition as primary sites of professional claims to legitimacy at a time when the specialty was under attack from critics both external and internal.

“English pauper lunatics in the era of the old poor law,” by Edgar Miller. The abstract reads,

Many of those considered to be insane in the past were regarded as paupers and so came within the ambit of the poor law. Little work has yet been published on the ways in which the poor law dealt with the psychologically disturbed during the era of the old poor law (c.1601–1834). The present paper outlines the old poor law which said very little about madness as a specific problem, with the general implication that they were to be dealt with in the same way as others considered to be in need of relief. It appears that this was generally the case with the exception that the insane were sometimes sent to asylums. They were also liable to be treated as vagrants. Some limitations and problems with primary sources are also noted.

“Freemasonry and psychiatry in Poland,” Tadeusz Nasierowski and Jonathan Britmann. The abstract reads,

The history of Freemasonry in Poland is linked with the national independence movement. Masonic organizations supported its ideas, even though they were not always compliant with Masonic ethics. Polish Freemasonry was reborn in 1920, with an important role played by three psychiatrists: Rafa? Radziwi??owicz, Witold ?uniewski and Jan Mazurkiewicz, who were Grand Masters of the Grand National Lodge of Poland. Some of the ethical problems discussed at the lodge sessions were later reflected in their academic and social work. Mazurkiewicz’s work was most crucial to the development of Polish psychiatry. His presentation of the clinical picture of schizophrenia, formulated in the 1930s, was identical with the concept proposed by Andreasen and Crow in the 1980s.

“Extreme fasting among Daoist priestesses of the Tang Dynasty: an old Chinese variant of anorexia nervosa?,” by Ann L. Lo, L.K. George Hsu, and Walter Vandereycken. The abstract reads,

Austere and prolonged fasting among Shangqing Daoist priestesses (Daogu) of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) occurred as part of a lifestyle practice to achieve a mystical state of afterlife existence, body immortality and residence in the Shangqing heavenly kingdom. These fasting practices were conducted exclusively for religious reasons and cannot be reconceptualized as a form of an eating disorder without radically altering their original purpose and meaning.

“Varieties of psychiatric criticism,” by Thomas Szasz. The abstract reads,

I present a brief overview of the history of psychiatric criticism, followed by a critique of modern objections to diverse psychiatric practices, focusing on the critics’ neglect of the core problematic issue – the psychiatrist’s role in depriving innocent persons of liberty.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.