Review of M. Borch-Jacobsen’s

Making Minds and Madness: From Hysteria to Depression

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. 2009, Cambridge University Press. Pp. 266.

ISBN: 978-0-521-71688-8.

This splendid volume should be on the book-shelf of everyone interested in the study of psychiatry and related subjects dealing with mental health.

As the Hannah Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Edward Shorter, notes:

In understanding the relationship between society and psychiatric illness, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen plucks the baton from the faltering hands of the psychoanalysts and carries it into the 21st century. Here, from a historian of psychiatry, are some strikingly original suggestions for understanding traumatic neurosis, seduction theory, multiple personality, and much more .

. .        This book has been put together from several papers originally published in French plus a couple of chapters specifically for this publication. However, the author has success­fully created a new and coherent whole with the production of this volume. It is divided into four Parts:

Part I, Microhistories of trauma. The largest and last chapter in this section entitled „A black box named `Sybil'“ is an excellent discussion of the hazards of diagnosing Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).

Part II is entitled „Fragments of a theory of generalized artifact“;

Part III is simply „The Freudian Century“; and

Part IV, Market psychiatry.

These four fascinating sections are preceded by a seventeen-page Introduction of careful, questioning rigour where the author poses many of the issues examined in the main body of the text — i.e., just what is the subject of psychiatry? and how frequently do we take for granted medical authority as an impersonal statement of well-founded truth? These issues are, in effect, the whole concern of this ingenious book. Freud is shown as being a rhetorically persuasive personality, not as a discoverer of human mental problems.

One may disagree with some of the author’s statements; but the questions he raises are important, difficult to answer, and worth investigation.

Robert WILCOCKS, Professor Emeritus of French, University of Alberta, Canada.

Leave a Reply