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Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory [Paperback]

Ian Hacking
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Book Description

Aug. 23 1998

Twenty-five years ago one could list by name the tiny number of multiple personalities recorded in the history of Western medicine, but today hundreds of people receive treatment for dissociative disorders in every sizable town in North America. Clinicians, backed by a grassroots movement of patients and therapists, find child sexual abuse to be the primary cause of the illness, while critics accuse the "MPD" community of fostering false memories of childhood trauma. Here the distinguished philosopher Ian Hacking uses the MPD epidemic and its links with the contemporary concept of child abuse to scrutinize today's moral and political climate, especially our power struggles about memory and our efforts to cope with psychological injuries.

What is it like to suffer from multiple personality? Most diagnosed patients are women: why does gender matter? How does defining an illness affect the behavior of those who suffer from it? And, more generally, how do systems of knowledge about kinds of people interact with the people who are known about? Answering these and similar questions, Hacking explores the development of the modern multiple personality movement. He then turns to a fascinating series of historical vignettes about an earlier wave of multiples, people who were diagnosed as new ways of thinking about memory emerged, particularly in France, toward the end of the nineteenth century. Fervently occupied with the study of hypnotism, hysteria, sleepwalking, and fugue, scientists of this period aimed to take the soul away from the religious sphere. What better way to do this than to make memory a surrogate for the soul and then subject it to empirical investigation?

Made possible by these nineteenth-century developments, the current outbreak of dissociative disorders is embedded in new political settings. Rewriting the Soul concludes with a powerful analysis linking historical and contemporary material in a fresh contribution to the archaeology of knowledge. As Foucault once identified a politics that centers on the body and another that classifies and organizes the human population, Hacking has now provided a masterful description of the politics of memory : the scientizing of the soul and the wounds it can receive.

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From Library Journal

Many clinicians, backed by a grass-roots movement of patients and therapists, argue that child abuse is the primary cause of multiple personality disorder (MPD), while critics charge the MPD community with fostering false memories of childhood trauma. Using this controversial disorder as a point of departure, Hacking (philosophy, Univ. of Toronto) here probes deep into the science of memory. While the fascination with memory is nothing new, it wasn't until the second half of the 19th century that a real science of memory developed. The study of pathological memory arose out of this new science, and with it came the study of multiple personalities. Hacking (The Taming of Chance, Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1990) argues that the manner in which the sciences of memory evolved has much to do with today's memory confrontations, and, moreover, that the current outbreak of dissociative disorders reflects our new political times. Ultimately, Hacking illustrates in this demanding examination how the current politics of memory have resulted in the scientizing of the soul. A challenging read for all but scholars and specialists in the field, this is recommended for larger academic psychology collections.?David R. Johnson, Louisiana State Univ. Lib., Eunice
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Winner of the 1995 Pierre Janet Writing Award, International Society for the Study of Dissociation

"In this brilliant and provocative new book, Ian Hacking fixes his searching gaze on the hot topic of multiple personality. The results are remarkable.... In Hacking's hands, multiple personality emerges as a paradigmatic case study illuminating basic questions about truth, memory, fact and fiction, about knowledge, science, and identity.... [This book] treats these impossibly difficult problems of knowability in the human sciences with grace and wisdom."--Ellen Herman, Contemporary Psychology

"The details of Hacking's discussion are enthralling and illuminating. He manages to avoid altogether the sensationalism usually associated with treatments of multiple personality, providing an informative history and raising deep and important philosophical issues."--Marya Schechtman, Mind

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1 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars "Less than One" Nov. 28 2003
Hacking asks, "Is it real?" He referred to the epidemic nature of multiplicity. He wrote that at one time multiplicity was considered rare. Hacking asks, "What happened? What is it? And, what is the answer?" He considered that multiplicity could be a fabrication between doctor and patient or as a social circumstance. He suggests that an intervention should be made and concluded that the situation demand professional caution. He sites the organizational work done by, "the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, but he claimed to be neutral.
Hacking seems to be part of a movement that believes that "... emphasis on personalities is wrongheaded." He writes that multiplicity is a failure to integrate. He quotes Spiegel (1993) as saying, "The problem is not having more than one personality; it is having less than one personality." Hacking further writes a comparison of multiplicity to Alice (in Wonderland). "For this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people. 'But it's no use now,' thought poor Alice, 'to pretend to be two people! Why, there is hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!"
Yesterday, I pulled from my shelves the first book I found on multiplicity. I wanted to write the first item in THE CATALOG. I skimmed through the first chapter. And, I felt anger and betrayal. This author's thinking horrified me. I don't have the ability to remember what I have or have not read or who is who, but I'd fallen under the wrong assumption that I have bought only "good books." So-be-it. This remains the first entry. We hope to offer "some" objectivity.
We will be checking out the other books on our shelves before going much further. We find it hard to remember, but we do know what allows feeling good or bad. We're not less than one!
Kate (Aynetal System)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Smart *and* Very Readable April 11 2008
By BRC - Published on
Ian Hacking is a brilliant thinker and an elegant writer. I read this book after one of my husband's friends suggested it. He said it was the best book he can ever remember reading (like me, he prefers to read good nonfiction).
After reading the book (during which I couldn't help marking particularly good passages because I knew I'd want to reread them), I have found myself refering to this book frequently in my own writing (I'm an academic) and conversation with my students. I must agree with my husband's friend: this is certainly one of the best books I've read.
If you enjoy smart analysis of contemporary culture and the frailties of sciences claiming to map the human mind, you will really enjoy this book. If you are a deep believer in the pure and virtuous authority of psychology, you will feel disturbed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Landmark Work in History of Science and Philosophy March 23 2011
By J. A. I. - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was a student of Professor Hacking at University of Toronto in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He is brilliant and a Canadian all Canadians should be proud of. The fact I got to enjoy his thinking firsthand while he was formulating his ideas that became this book while I was an undergrad and then a graduate student in one of his departments will always be my good intellectual fortune. "Rewriting" is a landmark work on the reformation of ideas about memory in the nineteenth century and the consequences of this reformation on science and indeed on western culture in general. This book as well as his earlier The Taming of Chance are two of the best works in the history of science written in the late twentieth century. Both are highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, I am learning a lot. Aug. 21 2013
By Theotokos - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As a person diagnosed as DID, I was left with a lot of questions. My psychiatrist gave me a lot of reading to do but I found this one on my own. I haven't finished this book yet but so far it has been an immense help. I highly recommend it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Rewriting the Soul: This book makes visible things not seen or properly analyzed anywhere else: ground breaking July 1 2013
By Lou Agosta - Published on
Strengths: A powerful treatment of the socio-philosophico-psychological development of an emergent psychiatric phenomenon ("category"), that of multiple personality disorder. Hacking navigates between "social construction" pure-and-simple, false memory syndrome, the analogy between remembering and story telling, and the invariant features of the conceptual framework needed for science. He is deeply empathic (the word "empathy" does not occur) towards the suffering of those who have experienced multiple personality disassociation. He is less so towards those who have tried to profit from it on talk shows and in the popular press. To read this text is to enjoy the dynamic give-and-take of a master at work. If there is a fan club, sign me up - I am unabashedly enthusiastic about this work.
Weaknesses: I cannot find any real weaknesses, certainly none that can be explained concisely and without elaborate give-and-take. A call for amplification might include saying more about Forgiveness; but would perhaps require another book. At the risk of sounding flip, the German word for memory/recollection is misspelled on the bottom of page 202 and should be "Erinnerung." At another level, this may be a difficult book for many less sophisticated readers. That does not mean that they should not buy it and read it. They should. Just be prepared. I actually assigned it to a class in the psychology of cognitive and affective bases of behavior; and after some initial hesitation - and some guidance - they thought it was pretty cool. Doesn't get any better than that. Hacking brings an awesome learning and intellect to the task at hand, the difficulties of which are not to be underestimated. Newton is supposed to have said, If I have seen further than others, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants who came before me. Not to lay it on too thick - but if not now when? - in this case, Newton's saying actually applies. Well done.
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