Friday, 2 March 2007

Was repressed memory a 19th-century creation?

...we know that 19th-century Europeans developed an evolving notion of the unconscious, arising against the cultural background of Romanticism.
Very likely, this Weltanschauung fostered the speculation that the mind could protect itself by relegating horrors to the unconscious-in Dickinson's phrase, like "one within a swoon."
But unlike the swoon, another Victorian symptom that soon became obsolete, dissociative amnesia (or alternatively, "repressed memory") perhaps prospered because of its theoretical interest to writers such as Freud and Janet, its convenience as a dramatic device (especially with the advent of film), and more recently, its appeal to trauma theorists, both popular and scientific.
Like the diagnosis of fugue, which flourished briefly in the favorable cultural climate of the late 19th century, dissociative amnesia may have survived in our culture because it has occupied a persistently fertile niche.
From an online discussion between Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post Staff Writer - and Harrison Pope, Psychiatry Professor, Harvard Medical School.

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