The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By Allan Young | Go to book overview

thing that we now call the traumatic memory, for this memory was unavailable to them. In everyday usage, the term “memory” has three meanings: the mental capacity to retrieve stored information and to perform learned mental operations, such as long division; the semantic, imagistic, or sensory content of recollections; and the location where these recollections are stored. John Locke and David Hume proposed that memory, in the second and third senses, is intrinsically connected to our conception of “self” and “self-awareness” (Richards 1992: 159–161; Warnock 1987: 57–60). By connecting self-awareness with the past, memory provides the body with a subject and subjectivity. It is the source of the “I” that initiates the body's purposeful acts and the “me” who experiences its pleasures and vicissitudes and must accept responsibility for its actions. Without memory, the I/me would fail to transcend momentary states of awareness and self-consciousness. It would be a string of experientially unconnected points, a “dehumanizing” condition that is associated with certain neurological pathologies (cf. Parfit 1984: 202–217). Our sense of being a person is shaped not simply by our active memories, however; it is also a product of our conceptions of “memory.” What occupies me in this book is how certain of these conceptions have changed over time, together with the practices through which memories are retrieved, interpreted, and narrated.

In eighteenth-century Europe, the prevailing conception was that a memory consists of mental images and verbal content: a person sees, says, or otherwise apprehends the things that he remembers. 2 During the next century, the boundaries of memory were expanded to include contents located in acts and bodily conditions (e.g., automatisms, hysterical contractures) as well as words and images. Further, the very fact that these acts and conditions were “memory” was unknown to the person who owned the memory.

This new conception was based on the idea that intensely frightening or disturbing experiences could produce memories that are concealed in automatic behaviors, repetitive acts over which the affected person exercised no conscious control. Without the intervention of an expert, the owner of a “parasitic” memory remained unaware of its content and ignorant that it influenced aspects of his life—an idea that would have been literally unthinkable in the previous century.

The discovery of traumatic memory revised the scope of two core attributes of the Western self, free will and self-knowledge—the capacity to reflect upon and to attempt to put into action one's desires, preferences, and intentions (Dworkin 1988: chaps.3 and 4; Harris 1989:3; Johnson 1993:chap. 6; Ouroussoff 1993: 287–295). At the same time, it created a new language of self-deception (Rorty 1985) and justified the emergence of a new class of authorities, the medical experts who would now claim

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The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • The Harmony of Illusions *
  • Introduction 3
  • Part I - The Origins of Traumatic Memory 11
  • One - Making Traumatic Memory 13
  • Two - World War I 43
  • Part II - The Transformation of Traumatic Memory 87
  • Three - The Dsm-Iii Revolution 89
  • Four - The Architecture of Traumatic Time 118
  • Part III - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Practice 143
  • Five - The Technology of Diagnosis 145
  • Six - Everyday Life in a Psychiatric Unit 176
  • Seven - Talking About Ptsd 224
  • Eight - The Biology of Traumatic Memory 264
  • Conclusion 287
  • Notes 291
  • Works Cited 299
  • Index 321
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