A Paper on Amnesia

I’ve added another paper to the pieces of longer writing listed on the left. It’s a paper I gave at Birmingham in September, linking Kipling’s character Penn in Captains Courageous  with an tradition of writing about amnesia that goes back about a century earlier.

For quite a while now I’ve been interested in the subject of dissociative amnesia – when someone suffers from a traumatic event, and then forgets large chunks of his or her past history. This is a phenomenon extremely popular in stories and movies  (Just see how many films the Internet Movie database lists under the keyword “amnesia”) but its frequency in real life appears to be quite vanishingly small – I had hopes of that canoist who has been in the papers, but I’m beginning to suspect he may not be altogether genuine. And oddly, there appear to be no fictional stories about the condition before the end of the eighteenth century, which suggests that such amnesia, if it exists, is a product of culture rather than of human nature.

This anomaly was pointed out by Dr Harrison Pope, a Harvard psychologist who has been disturbed by the way in which the myth of repression amnesia has been used by therapists eager to discover repressed memories hidden somewhere in their patients’ minds. An article in the Harvard Magazine  explains about Dr Pope’s Repression Challenge, by which his  Biological Psychology Department offered $1000 reward for anyone who could find n example of repression amnesia in fact or fiction before 1800. It mentions Nina, the opera I discovered that just pre-dates 1800,  which earned me the $1000 prize.

My paper explains about Nina more fully, and traces its origins to other eighteenth-century  sources in an attempt to describe the genealogy of a cultural myth.

One Comment

  1. Alan Allport
    Posted December 28, 2007 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations! Just a shame about the anemic dollar’s exchange value at the moment …


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