Nancy Gish wrote:
> It depends what you mean by "dissociation." Dissociation is a long-recognized condition once a part of the definition of hysteria. A clear example is the WWI soldiers with hysteria who had functional disorders: blindness, deafness, paralysis, anaesthesia, muteness. These had no organic basis but were--in major psychological diagnoses--the result of trauma. That is why we now call such conditions PTSD. Other forms include somnambulism, waking hallucinations, doubles, derealization, depersonalization. Gerontion's lost senses can be read (I read them as such) as a dissociation of sensation and thought. Such representations are all over Eliot's poetry.
Agreed. My focus was on Eliot the critic and his historical hypothesis.
The conditions you list had social rather than organic causes (basis)
but did/do correspond to definite neuro-physiological processes as well.
Damasio's work is in part a struggle to demonstrate and describe the
inseparability not just of brain and mind (the original error of
Descartes) but of brain and body.
Of course, Eliot's posing of the hypothesis of dissociation is itself an
historical event and requires historical explanation. Would it be as
closely linked to WWI events as the disorders you list? The growth of
commodity production from the 16th-century on completed the division of
mental and manual labor which had begun with the invention of the
pottery wheel, as well as broke all direct linkages between production
and consumption, between act and its meaning or motive. As a result
analogical thinking (as in the schoolmen), which was grounded in the
visibility of motive in act) was undermined, and very roughly speaking,
I think that change constituted the cultural context which Eliot
attempted to explain with his doctrine of dissociation of sensiblity.
This was also a contributing factor to the New Critics' insistence on
"organic unity" of action and meaning in poems.
Consider, for example, Allen Tate's essay, "The Symbolic Imagination,"
in which he quotes St. Catherine of Siena. She is recounting her
experience in comforting a young man unjustly convicted of treason, and
she tells of his execution:
. . .I stretched out his neck; and bowed me down, and recalled to him
the Blood of the Lamb. His lips said naught save Jesus! and Catherine!
And so saying, I received his head in my hands, closing my eyes in
the divine goodness and saying, "I will." When he was at rest my
soul rested in peace and quiet, and in so great fragrance of blood that
I could not bear to remove the blood which had fallen on me from him.
Tate comments, "It is deeply shocking, as all proximate incarnations
are shocking," going on to argue that only those "of extraordinary
courage . . .can face the spiritual truth in its physical body."
Eliot and Tate see this as (a) a purely 'cultural' or moral change and
(b) wish to reattain it. But this is absurd, for this seeing of the
spiritual truth in its physical body was grounded in the visible unity
of act and motive in everyday life. The pre-modern cobbler makes shoes
to be worn by fellow villagers, and does so only when asked -- hence his
own inner ("spiritual") reality is analogically present in his visible
action. The cobbler in cobbler in modern society makes shoes not in
response to direct need of those to whom she is directly related but on
the faith or calculation that through sale she will realize their
exchange value -- a purely spiritual attribute not detectable by an
examination of the shoes' material reality. Separated in time and space
from all the human activities which must constitute an equilibrium if
his activity is to have meaning, he trusts to abstract principle to give
that meaning--he can only stand and wait.
Eliot cannot stand Milton because it was Milton who first grasped so
deeply this great change and inscribed it in the action of his poem.
Eliot (and Tate) see Milton's profound grasp of the new social relations
as a literary defect (dissociation of sensibility or separation of act
from result or motive) rather than the tremendous achievement it was.
Wordsworth grasped Milton's achievement precisely, stealing just the
right line for his own purposes:
What dwelling shall receive me, in what vale
Shall be my harbour, underneath what grove
Shall I take up my home, and what sweet stream
Shall with its murmurs lull me to my rest?
The earth is all before me . . . .
In his/her dotlike isolation the modern citizen is not only free to
choose where to rest -- she MUST choose freely not only where to rest
but what social relations to enter into. Nothing is given. "Know
yourself" for Socrates meant "Know your place" in a visible social
structure. Nostalgia for such visible social relations is the source of
the attraction fascism had for the Heideggers, the Eliots, and the
Pounds at mid-century.