Introspection and Inner Life as Scale

AHA Session 53
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 4C (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Jonathan Metzl, Vanderbilt University
Eli Zaretsky, The New School

Session Abstract

This panel explores introspection and inner life as a form of scale. Historiographical calls for transnational and transtemporal perspectives often do not acknowledge the history of interiority, or if they do, they equate it with a “micro-history” approach, as Jo Guldi and David Armitage do in 2015’s The History Manifesto. But this perspective fails to recognize the inherent breadth of scale in the power of alienation, rootlessness, the individual’s interpretations of feelings, and the individual’s relationship with scientific authority. Historians of emotions and historians of psychiatry are uniquely positioned to work at this nexus between science and the arts.

Historians of psychiatry and psychology, Roy Porter and Gail Hornstein among them, have for years encouraged the writing of more history from the patient’s perspective; Gerald Grob famously invoked the figure of the “invisible patient,” lost to historians because psychiatric archival sources, given the access restrictions for those case notes or patient records generated in the last 75 years, are frustratingly fragmentary and elusive to researchers. As Joel Braslow noted of working with medical case notes, the patients’ voices are “thin, barely audible,” and “even when heard, they are almost always refracted through the doctors.” (Braslow, 1997) This panel takes seriously this call for the patient’s perspective and the patient’s critical capacities in assessing science, biology, diagnosis, and psychoanalytical concepts. 

The historiography of psychiatry, dominated by both internalist and social histories, is now branching out beyond purely medical sources, in works such as Gail Hornstein’s intellectual biography of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, To Redeem One Person is to Redeem the World: The Life of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (2000), or Jonathan Metzl’s The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease (2011), and our three papers follow in this vein. Gabriel Mendes’s paper focuses on a set of scientific studies, African American folklore, and Black fictional representations of the particularity of Black mental disorder to address the question of how race structured the very conceptualization and lived experience of mental health and illness from the WWI-era Great Migration WWI through the end of WWII.  Maisam Alomar’s paper examines  the history of the film Home of the Brave (1949), which depicts a Black soldier, whose psychosomatic paralysis derives in large part from his emotional sensitivity to the wounds of antiblack prejudice and discrimination, and whose "cure" and "rehabilitation" depend upon moving beyond his racial difference to accept his (manly) normality. Heather Murray’s paper specifically explores the counter-intuitive idea that resistance to introspection, in the form of injunctions like “pull yourself together,” were in fact not just expressed by potential psychiatric patients, but by the American psychiatric establishment during the late modern period, suggesting a strong faith in self-reliance and grave doubts about individualism. We expect a wide audience, from African Americanists, to historians of psychiatry, psychology, and the social sciences, to historians of emotions, to cultural and intellectual historians broadly construed.

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