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TSE  September 2002

TSE September 2002

Subject:

Re: Some Queries, was Re: Deluge...

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Mon, 30 Sep 2002 01:08:52 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (86 lines)

I do not claim to be a psychiatrist or to be qualified in neuropsychiatry.  I
do claim to be able to read, and to have read on the subject masses of
material from the 10s and 20s as well as previous history.  I am not
making judgments on the "truth" of the diagnoses but on the way they
were understood.  That does not demand being an expert on the brain or
on the overall field of psychiatry.  For example, to understand why
Septimus Smith kills himself, one need not personally diagnose the
symptoms he is described as having, though as Woolf herself had had
many comparable experiences she could no doubt make them vividly real;
but knowledge of how "lunatics" were treated under the "Lunacy Act" in
Britain at the time is available and quite comprehensible and that is what
is being proposed by the doctor whose arrival triggers Septimus's suicide.
The descriptions of "hysteria" and "neurasthenia" are frequent and
consistent.  Vittoz's book is called "The Treatment of Neurasthenia by
Means of Brain Control."  Eliot took the treatment, and his experience was
like that in the book.  So did others in Bloomsbury.  That is just fact and
well known.  So the fact that Eliot took Vittoz very seriously and went to
him on the advice of others for the symptoms that were called
"neurasthenic" is pretty significant for reading Eliot regardless of what
anyone now thinks of those categories or how they have changed--
especially considering that he was working on TWL at the same time.
Nancy


Date sent:              Sun, 29 Sep 2002 16:32:11 -0500
Send reply to:          "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From:                   Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:                Re: Some Queries, was Re: Deluge...
To:                     [log in to unmask]

Francis Gavin wrote:
>
> No. They were indeterminately diagnosed symptoms about what he may or
> may not have been undergoing at that time. Which is why things are no
> longer classified that way. I reiterate.
>
> GAVIN
>

Wait a minute. I think I mostly agree with you, but you are going astray
in simply rejecting history out of hand. Mental illnesses, I repeat, are
not like a broken bone. Since our "mind" is an interaction of brain, body
and world we live in, mental illness really does change. Take for example
Bob's example of failing (not being able to) write letters he had promised
to write. (That grinds me too: I've lost contact with a number of friends
and colleagues over the decades through failing to write -- more
accurately, really being _unable_ to write.)

Now in a social order 90% non-literate; in which, if one went to war, one
went with neigbhbors, not strangers from widely different parts of a large
nation; in which on the whole one could live most of one's life knowing
only people who also knew each other: depression and PTSD would still
exist. But the thoughts/feelings of a mentally ill person, like ALL
thought and feeling, can not be separated from their particular content.
So the precise thoughts/emotions/feelings Bob and I speak of simply could
not have existed for the bulk of the human species even as late as a
century ago. (And of course there has to be a sharp difference between the
"place" in a whole life of a failure to  write a comrade from combat and a
failure to write a grad-school friend -- even _if_ the neural circuits
happen to be the same.)

So while I agree that "hysteria" and "neurasthenia" are in important
ways false classifications, in a sense do not exist -- whatever it was
that was _called_ hysteria and neurasthenia in 1920 _did_ exist, and the
very fact that they were _called_ that (rather than what we, more
correctly, call them) meant that in important ways they _differed_ (as
part of a whole personal history) from the "same" neurological condition
today. (I'm basing my understanding of the brain/mind/body mostly on the
writings of Antonio Damasio.)

I think it would be correct for a person to say, "I don't _have_ a
history; I _am_ my history." And an element in that total history is
always the way (at any given place and time) behavior is labelled,
described, and responded to by others. So even _if_ Nancy's
understanding of neuropsychiatry is faulty (and she really hasn't
declared her self on that subject, nor need she have), the history which
she speaks of working on will say something real about Eliot. It can't
just be dismissed because "things are no longer classified that way." No
they aren't, and that is a real gain. (And it will be a greater gain when
we get rid of the last vestiges of Freudian superstition -- but that is
anothe question.) But Pope's examples in _The Rape_ were correct -- there
existed maids who thought they were bottles. If that particular 'delusion'
doesn't exist now, then that change is a fact for psychiatry as well as
history and literary understanding.

Carrol

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