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We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

The Letter, Issue 14, Autumn 1998, Pages 165 - 181


Helena Texier

(When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,...)

'What is human?' and 'What is reality?'.

It would seem, in the recent, albeit short-lived, furore caused in the field of psychiatry on their 'discovery' of 'false memories' in the course of talking cures, specifically in relation to sexual abuse, that these two questions seem to be causing that field some anxiety. I've elsewhere said that it is regrettable that psychiatry on this matter seems to lag behind psychoanalysis by more than one hundred years.[1] But more regrettable still is the implication from some quarters of the establishment, generally the most vocal, that this 'discovery' should be read as proof of the inherent danger of talking cures, as if the only adequate response to the new-found knowledge of the human subject is, precisely, to reinforce the science by firmly (fore)closing the door in its face. The perceived 'danger' of the 'talking cure' appears to follow, as far as I can gather, from two points; firstly, in that there is no measurable, empirical basis on which to make a judgement with regard to the status, the 'reality', of anything that is produced as memory; secondly, that the psychiatrist risks leaving himself open to being implicated in the production of such 'false memories' (for example, that his method involves suggestion, an 'implantation' of memory) and therefore open to the possibility of being sued by someone falsely accused of abuse or, indeed by a patient, traumatised by memories, by-products of therapy which would not have arisen were it not for the treatment. Ostensibly then, although there is mention of the trauma caused to the patient or those falsely accused, the 'danger' is really one posed for the psychiatrist; firstly, in that the very ground of his field, the reliance on empirical method, finds itself challenged by a speaking subject; secondly, insofar as there is a risk to his bank-balance, reputation, etc. Best to leave well enough alone.

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