Friday, June 20, 2008

Idling With Ivor 10

I continue here with the random points of insight that I gained from reading chapter 32, "The Frozen Present" of Ivor Browne's memoir Music and Madness published earlier this year.  These following points are in no particular order:

1.  I was quite taken with Ivor's insights into Freud's early neurological work with Charcot (on whom I have written an entry previously. See Charcot) I learned interesting facts about studies on sexual abuse around this time in the capital of France and the probable influence of these on Freud's theories.  I was especially caught by this quote from Freud which Ivor uses:

"Influenced by Charcot's use of the traumatic origin of hysteria, one was readily inclined to accept as true and etiologically significant  the statements made by patients in which they ascribe their symptoms to passive sexual experience in the first years of childhood - to put it bluntly, to seduction." (Quoted op.cit., 293)

In other words we have here an explicit statement of Freud's early contention that a lot, indeed all hysteria is caused by the sexual seduction of children by adults (male).  Another elucidating fact for me is that hysteria today would be called PTSD (post-traumatic stress-disorder). Ivor mentions a study of which I had never heard, namely the Etude Medico Legale made by a professor of legal medicine at the University of Paris in 1857 - a report written by Ambroise Auguste  Tardieu.  This study reported that between 1858 and 1869 that there were some 9, 125 persons accused of rape or attempted rape of children.  The vast majority of the victims were between the ages of 4 and 12, and the vast majority of them were young girls.  In all probability Freud would have been aware of this from his studies in Paris and from the fact that he used often go down to the morgue there. However, there were contemporary Parisian experts like Drs Alfred Fournier and P.C. Brouardel who cast serious doubts on the reliability of reports of the sexual abuse of children.

2.  During the time Freud was in Paris (October 1885 - February 1886) these contentious and opposing views were live issues.  When he returned to Vienna he did some very important work in collaboration with Dr. Josef  Breuer whom I have written a post - see this link  Josef Breuer  They published an important book as a result of their joint studies which highlighted the following facts: i) hysteria is the result of traumatic experiences, ii) memories had a remarkable sensory force similar to a new experience and iii) the hysterical symptoms disappeared when the memory of the initial experience was called to light.  (These are my words and my assimilation of the facts; see op.cit., 294 for original account.)

3.  However, Breuer and Freud parted company on one important disputatious point.  Freud highlighted the importance of of sexual abuse and incest in the early years in the genesis of hysteria.  As Ivor points out Freud took his contention too far and no doubt undermined whatever validity it might have had by writing:

"Whatever case and whatever symptom we take as our point of departure, in the end we will infallibly come to the field of sexual experience." (quoted, ibid., 295)

This has been called within psychoanalytical circles Freud's "seduction theory."

As I have pointed out in my posts on Freud, while being extremely erudite and very well read, he had a habit of making very sweeping generalisations.  Just take a look at his language in the above quotation:  "whatever case" and "infallibly." Freud ruled his movement like and autocrat and brooked absolutely no opposition within it.  As Ivor wittily and correctly points out, with the above diktat Freud "was hoist (sic) by his own petard, and he prepared the way for the difficulties in which he soon found himself." (ibid., 295)

4.  However, I agree, with Ivor and with a host of other commentators, that it not at all too clear as to why Freud changed his mind suddenly on the etiology of trauma which he had stated categorically was located in the experience of child sexual abuse.  Ivor then refers to Jeffrey Masson's wonderful book, which I also have on my shelves and which I have only browsed through to date, namely The Assault on Truth.  Therein, Ivor learned the reason for Freud's about-turn in the matter.  His theory was so outlandish and indeed alarming - after all it was Victorian times - that Freud alienated himself almost completely from professional colleagues, one of whom accused him of promoting "a scientific fairytale."  Indeed, I'm sure that a lot of unconscious defences rushed to the surface to protect the male of the species!  In 1896, Freud wrote to his friend and confidant Dr Fliess  (See Fliess) in the following words: "I am as isolated as you could wish me to be, and a void is forming around me." (Quoted ibid., 297)  Coupled with this feeling of isolation and professional rejection, the operation on Emma Echstein's (Eckstein) nose went so alarmingly wrong.  This operation had been done by Fliess at the instigation of Freud.  He managed somehow to get another Doctor to undo as far as possible the botched job done by Fliess.  Therefore, to get himself out of a double bind as it were he abandoned his contentious "seduction theory."  This way, according to Masson and Ivor, he took the heat off himself.  Whether this was consciously or unconsciously done is a matter for further investigation.

5.  "When one combines the contributions of Pierre Janet (who, although originally a philosopher, studied medicine and went to work in Charcot's department in the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris - my note TQ)  and the early work of Freud, it is extraordinary how close they were to the view of the "frozen present" presented here."  (Ibid., 298)

6.  Some interesting statistics from Ivor's Unit in St Brendan's: Having carried out a review of 180 cases, as regards the etiology of the trauma in child sexual and/or physical abuse or loss of significant others during childhood.

True:                                                110

False Memory Syndrome                      6

Unclear                                              53

Dropped Out                                     11

Total                                                180

The above seems to give some indication of the probably truth of Freud's "seduction theory" though of course it is not obvious from the 110 figure whether the true report of trauma refers to physical or sexual abuse or loss.

7.  Ivor gives some interesting cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on pages 302 to 303 where i) marital difficulties could be traced back to a forgotten and repressed childhood trauma and ii) a young man in his early thirties presented with paralysis of the arm following the death of his father.  In both cases there was a freezing of experience.

8.  I loved all Ivor's vivid accounts of his meetings with Dr R.D. Laing who also impressed  me greatly and on whom I have written several blog entries.  See this link RDL . As regards repression Laing said that not alone is the initial experience "cut off" and not available to consciousness, but the fact that it is cut off is itself "cut off," so that the individual now has no awareness that the traumatic event ever took place.  (Ibid., 304)


There is much else I could say, but I have now virtually exhausted my wells of inspiration and my assimilation of Ivor's wonderful insights.

Above a picture I took in the Burren some two weeks ago where many wild and beautiful flowers grow through the cracks.

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