Mesa J

Norman Simms

Waikato University

> History: Science versus Art.



>1.0 Introduction to the Argument

> Having discussed these four separate aspects that constitute the

>dynamic version of History of Mentalities, I will turn my attention to a

>recent attempt to provide a scientific grounding for history. It is an

>endeavour which derives from a debate that is usually focused on

>Psychoanalysis, and the question of whether or not Freud's work should be

>considered an art or a science, or more precisely, whether Psychoanalysis

>can stand up to the rules of falsification, repeatability, and

>predictability that supposedly define modern science or if it is only a

>form of creative interpretation which at best offers elegant descriptions

>of particular individual case histories. Lurking not too far in the

>background, as well, is an agenda of debunking the idea of the

>unconsciousness as anything more than lack of attention or a momentary

>slippage of awareness. This is certainly related to a current trend in

>exposing case histories of Multiple-Personality Disorder as trickery or

>self-delusion. The example we shall look out has been presented by a

>German doctoral student whose thesis claims to provide statistical proof

>for Lloyd deMause's psychogenetic theory of history.


>1.1. Falsifiability

> The question of falsifiability is often given as the backbone of

>hard science, in that real science seeks to disprove its own evidence and

>keep testing its own premises, rather than to bolster up existing paradigms

>"by connecting the dots and filling in the blanks". A scientific theory

>must be able to be stated in such a way that it can be disproved by either

>the lack of evidence or the production of contrary evidence; it should

>never close off discussion, experimentation, or more parsimonious

>explanations for the phenomena it is concerned with. Insofar as the

>History of Mentalities is based on Psychohistory and the psychogenetic

>theory of human development falsifiable because it turns on the hard

>evidence of neuroanatomy and developmental psychology; it also draws on

>clinical experience and thus can generate a multiplicity of data from case

>studies by social workers, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and

>psychoanalysts. However, it is conceded-and even asserted-that the

>information gained in these ways cannot be applied directly to historical

>persons, institutions, events, and artefacts.


>1.2. Repeatability

> The History of Mentalities is in its fullness a robust set of

>techniques of analysis, interpretation, and evaluation of persons,

>situations, and things which cannot be subject to repeatability precisely

>because they are unique historical data. Addition to being beyond any

>kind of scientific control or open to experimental variations, the primary

>data are both incomplete and embedded in resistant matrices. Thus, on the

>one hand, there is no way to construct or discover sufficiently close

>situations for the sake of comparison or contrast under varying conditions

>to test alternative explanations for motivations and consequences of

>specific actions, thoughts, feelings or perceptions.

> On the other hand, any description of the specific historical

>instance cannot stand on its own terms because, as we argued in the first

>part of this paper, "its own terms" are (a) part of a fluid continuum of

>change and development, (b) inadequate to the full contextual circumstances

>of both micro- and macro-history, including the histoire de longue dure

>and the subjective history of individuals, and (c) already always involved

>in conscious or unconscious tensions with hegemonic/counter-hegemonic

>forces in its own time and progressive/conservative forces in the times in

>the process of emerging. Moreover, the documents, imagery, artefacts and

>institutions of any particular group are almost always wilfully or

>inadvertently masking their true intentions, constituent elements, and both

>feared and desired outcomes.


>1.3 Predictability

> Nonetheless, there is a certain degree of predictability

>possible within the History of Mentalities which arises out of its

>interpretative methods of analogy and analysis. In the first instance,

>drawing from the anatomical, cognitive, and clinical evidence of

>Psychohistory and the psychogenetic theory of history, there are a series

>of possible developments predicted for the kinds of trauma experienced by

>individuals and groups under consideration and, once alerted to these

>possibilities, the historian of mentalities can then search for the

>hitherto missing, overlooked, or undervalued data. This new data may in

>itself require intense analysis and scrutiny under various perspectives of

>analysis before it yields sufficient probability as both a relevant portion

>of the missing picture that has been sketched out as a possible scenario

>consequent to the facts of individual or group abuse, for example, or be

>shown to be likely and apt for the historical circumstances otherwise

>verifiable. Only rarely will the data create a good enough match to close

>off other possible scenarios, but in many cases will sufficiently reduce

>the number of alternatives to present as a legitimate theory. It will then

>have to be further tested through its ability to explain prior and

>subsequent, as well as contextual acts, decisions, and cultural products.

> A second aspect of predictability works from the other side. It is

>not just that manifest evidence of a traumatic event predicts a series of

>possible psychogenetic consequences, but that a pattern of bizarre,

>irrational, self-destructive or otherwise inexplicable acts, decisions, or

>statements may be read symptomatically as the effect of some hitherto

>unperceived or inadequately appreciated event. Recognising the pattern of

>strange historical data as possibly analogous to the development of

>post-traumatic psychic disturbances in clinical studies, for instance, may

>alert the historian of mentalities to postulate-to predict-the existence of

>a number of causes in the life of the individuals or groups concerned. The

>prediction is not an automatic fit, of course, but only a tool of inquiry

>which then needs to be followed through by both re-examining the available

>primary documents, images, and artefacts for previously missing or misread

>facts, normally more clues and hints or traces of the predicted event; and

>then by new analyses and decoding of that material from new perspectives

>opened up by the suggested aetiology of those symptoms which first alerted

>the historian to some possible traumatic causation.


>1.4 Robust and Elegant Interpretations

> The History of Mentalities that is thus evolved by these methods

>will be valid insofar as it produces interpretations of persons, events,

>cultural achievements and individual biographies that are both robust and

>elegant. The explanations will be robust when they can attach themselves

>to the richness of already existing documentation, enhance that body of

>facts by bringing in new relevant data from materials contemporary and

>nearly contemporary with the subject being investigated, and provide

>sufficiently consistent and coherent analogies and connections to other

>circumstances in the same historical matrix. The robust explanation must

>prove itself in this way as factual, probable, and relevant as existing

>explanations generated by other modalities of historiography.

>It will be an elegant explanation moreover when it is capable of at once

>fulfilling the above robust conditions of historical probability and at the

>same time drawing together more diverse, apparently contradictory, or

>seemingly inexplicable other events, decisions, and articulations of

>cultural expression than available by other means. The elegant explanation

>should also point to probable lines of development from prior conditions

>and show how the evidence now woven together leads towards future evolution

>in social, political, artistic and other aspects of the historical group

>and its institutions.


>2.0 Testing the Case

> Rather than proving Lloyd deMause's psychogenetic theory of childhood by

>statistical analysis of a sampling of nineteen extant German-language

>autobiographies from the fourteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, Ralph

>Frenken's study itself can be disproved, not merely by questioning the

>sample taken for such analysis, but by psychohistorical technique and by

>the evidence of History of Mentalities. By assuming that the statistics

>prove the predictability of individual and group personality types, this

>German scholar seems to disclose the inadequacies of constructing

>statistical generalisations to explain complicated historical phenomena.

>Inadvertently, Frenken, in citing from the primary documents of the period

>in question, makes it more certain that the psychogenetic theory does not

>work as a grid of predictable progress from one mode of childrearing to the

>next, but instead as an optic that clarifies difficult problematics in the

>History of Mentalities.

> In other words, not only is the theory of psychogenetic history,

>which we have argued plays a major part in the formation of History of

>Mentalities, stronger than the methodology in this resum of Frenken's

>doctoral dissertation, but the strengths of Psychohistory would be weakened

>by submission to the narrow, positivistic notion of "science" that is

>demonstrated here. As in the problem of the scientific proofs of Freud

>himself, the restrictive equation of science and statistics reveals itself

>as a form of denial and rejection of dynamic depth psychology. The

>strength of Freudian psychoanalysis comes from the intensity and acuteness

>of perceptions that occur from the examination of a few key case studies,

>with Freud's own self-scrutiny in works such as The Analysis of Dreams

>being of primary importance. As Freud and his immediate circle of

>followers had already demonstrated, the findings of the "science" were

>constantly being re-examined, redefined, and developed into new areas of

>human experience, providing a self-correcting and re-evaluating mechanism.

>In its latest phases, of course, Psychoanalysis has linked itself to

>Developmental Psychology and Neuroanatomy (e.g., Schore) and Cognitive

>Philosophy (e.g. Ey).

> From a different angle, the applicability of the psychogenetic

>insights to historical research arises, not from its paradigmatic charts

>and plotted date-lines, but from its aptness to explain contradictions,

>gaps, and deformations in the historical narrative of particular times,

>places, and groups of individuals. For this reason, History of

>Mentalities, as it also draws in the theories, methods, and insights of

>mentalities research, cultural anthropology and discourse analysis, becomes

>the over-arching science of history.

> Looking more closely at Frenken's study, it is possible to note

>other key weaknesses in his study which can help us assess the need to

>treat history-both Psychohistory and History of Mentalities-as scientific

>in a wider, more dynamic, and more dialectical sense. The first deficit

>discovered by the dissertation's attempt to prove deMause's central

>premises that follows notice of the small sample group of texts-even if it

>were widened to include the seventy-odd other Germanic autobiographies

>alluded to-the statistical play seems a form of special-pleading. That the

>autobiographies are not all uniform-there are Catholic, Protestant and

>converted individuals who write in different places for different

>reasons-also undermines the positivistic attempt. Without consideration of

>the conflicting mentalities-hegemonic and counter-hegemonic (to use

>Gramsci's terms)-the mental world (l'univers mental) of the age are not

>perceived, its internal mental machinery (l'outillage mental) overlooked,

>and what Eugen Cizek calls its "meta-values" (meta-valeurs) are glossed

>over as mere expressions of ideology. Moreover, the stripping down of each

>historical document to a few statistically relevant details for tabulation

>also robs the study of its robust grasp of cultural complexities and

>extenuating mental circumstances. Certainly, the statistical test confirms

>deMause in his broadest outlines, and even allows for a minor adjustment of

>dates of first appearance of intrusive modes of childrearing, but only in a

>very restricted intellectual and political zone of Europe during the

>crucial transition from medieval to Reformation mentalities.

> The second, perhaps more crucial, weakness in Frenken's work is his

>failure to pay attention to the generic nature of the documents he is

>using. He seems totally innocent of any form of Discourse Analysis.

>Particularly given that so much has already been written on the history and

>typologies of auto/biographical/confessional literature in these crucial

>centuries of transformation in European culture, it is a major

>disappointment to see no references at all to the work done by

>discourse-analysts on these different forms of self-expression and

>personal-constructions. Negative information and arguments ex silencio

>can, of course, be of great value to the psychohistorian, as can the

>hesitations, lapses, and screen-memories of individuals on the analyst's

>couch, yet only if-and this is the crucial point-there is an understanding

>of what was expected in such self-histories, what was permissible as

>evidence by different civil and legal institutions, and how language was

>felt to relate to external and internal realities.

> Bringing to bear the four aspects of the History of Mentalities, we

>can see that during the late Reformation in Western and Central Europe,

>introspective narratives were often written to patterns taught in religious

>exercises, and Puritans especially were searching in the experiences of

>daily life for both evidence of their own sinfulness and patterns of divine

>grace. But journalistic entries in the course of lived experience had

>different regulations than more formal reflective account-taking, or

>eulogistic praise or dispraise at the close of a life were not the same in

>essence. Nor were the confessions of Tridentine Catholicism the same as

>public witnessing in Calvinist churches. Much water flowed under the

>bridges of history between Augustine's self-flagellating Confessions as

>paradigm of self-witnessing and Rousseau's Confessions as masturbatory


> In addition to his nave approach to the documents he is studying,

>Frenken also has a rather limited notion of the family unit. This is not

>just a condition of the evidence which provides little direct reference to

>the fundamental caregiver-infant dyad ("the external womb") in the vital

>first three years of life, but also the avoidance of accepting the

>non-nuclear trinity of father-mother-child as a later bourgeois invention,

>although of course, at various times, and in various constructions, it was

>idealised in the Christian concept of the Holy Family. The texts studied

>by Frenken show that families during the fourteenth, fifteenth and

>sixteenth centuries in Central European, German-speaking lands were

>fragmentary, amorphous, and unsteady, with no surety, from the child's

>point of view, that either parent would be there the next day or week or

>month or year, that siblings, older and younger, would survive the season,

>and that the home one lived in would be the place one would see tomorrow.

>Multi-generational families, with serial mothers and fathers, new and lost

>brothers and sisters, as the child was shifted about, rather than giving

>any sense of security, created a state of almost constant anxiety and


> As Frenken shows, too, it was often the father who oversaw the

>early education and disciplining of the child, not the mother, a fact which

>puts the absence of descriptions of earlier periods of relationship to the

>nurse-whether birth-mother, servant, or more distant relative-highly

>problematic, not subject to easy categorisation on the vital scale of

>progressive emergence of more infant-centred practices. Indications show,

>from the kind of material Frenken does not examine, that care of the child

>from about three years old, was the charge of the father in Jewish

>households, and that this occurred from at least the twelfth century in

>European culture. If that is so, then, further, we have perhaps to back

>off from assuming that all people in a given social, political and

>geographical area share essential patterns of childhood, at the same time

>as it is important to recognise that proximity in time and space, mediated

>by asymmetrical power relations, does cause some overlapping and indeed, at

>times, similarity of external appearance. But the specifics of historical

>"facts" will be found only when we turn from a statistical analysis of

>superficial analogies and similar appearances to the inner dimensions of

>reality. Thus, it is more probable, that the various child-rearing

>modalities, like the consequent psychoclasses, can stand in a variety of

>relationships to one another, not just hegemonic-to-counter-hegemonic, but

>also in regressive-progressive developments, as would seem to have occurred

>at several times between Jewish and Christian communities during the course

>of the religious wars, persecutions, and civic revolutions of this

>historical period. For the Jewish communities in German-speaking lands,

>many other factors came into play, such as the immigration of significant

>numbers of Sephardic refugees from the Iberian expulsion or the

>restrictions on trade and areas of habitation during the strife of the

>Reformation. The Jewish situation is not dominant: it puts into question,

>however, easy generalisations, and forces the historian to look beyond

>surfaces and statistics to specifics.

> Finally, Frenken's categorisation of these few German-language

>autobiographies simply elides too many other major factors. For instance,

>Frenken mentions the fact that, as highly articulate middle class writers,

>despite some spread of social origins, may not be typical and the evidence

>displayed in setting out a time-scale that generally proves the

>psychogenetic sense of progress does not hold in itself, but is rather

>supported by the theory. By this I mean, that Frenken's charts and

>timelines are constructed to prove deMause and therefore his evidence has

>been selected because the student has been alerted to the very kinds of

>details psychogenetic theory considers significant, with the literary

>genre, the other details of the mental climate, and the psychological

>contexts of the works put aside as irrelevant for this statistical test.

>On the other hand, turning to a study which takes a more philosophical look

>at the same problematic period in European history, we find the

>psychoanalyst's insights alerting the writer to the inner dimensions of the

>individuals and groups involved, but then lacking in a way to explain why

>particular personality types seem to become dominant and influential during

>the late Reformation. Thus, in reading Erich Fromm's The Fear of Freedom

>(1942), I am struck by how much it cries out for-indeed, seems to open the

>textual space for the insertion of--deMause's psychogenetic theory:

> The rules for confessors showed a great understanding of the

>concrete situation of the individual and gave recognition to subjective

>individual differences. They did not treat sin as the weight by which the

>individual should be weighted down and humiliated, but as the human frailty

>for which one should have understanding and respect. (p. 62).

> What Fromm says of Luther's Protestantism requires more than the

>addition of those insights which Erik Erikson's psychobiography seems to

>have made available by illuminating the private, inner experiences of the

>great theologian:

>By not only accepting his own insignificance but by humiliating himself to

>the utmost, by giving up every vestige of individual will, by renouncing

>and denouncing his individual strength, the individual could hope to be

>acceptable to God. if you completely submit, if your accept your

>individual insignificance, then the all-powerful God may be willing to love

>you and save you. (p. 69)

> This is a state of mind collectively felt and not due to the

>singular effects of one man's upbringing, and therefore asks that the

>historian seek out evidence for shifts in childrearing practice that were

>exacerbated by and in many ways constructed in response to the bitter

>uncertainties of the break up of the Christian-Latin synthesis we know as

>the Middle Ages.

>Even more so, for Calvin and his followers, Fromm's comments require the

>elucidation of not just psychogenetic data but the whole repertoire of the

>History of Mentalities:

>There are two kinds of people-those who are saved and those who are

>destined to eternal damnation.This principle implies that there is no

>solidarity between me, since the one factor which is the strongest basis

>for human solidarity is denied: the quality of man's fate. (p. 76)

> Put in to this study of the sixteenth century in German-speaking

>lands the changes in the way people felt about their parents, their

>siblings and themselves, and their anxieties about the integrity of the

>body and the parameters of the emotional environment, and perhaps the

>philosophical essay gives you a more solid proof of the psychogenetic

>theory than Freken's statistics. But neither a general philosophical

>argument's such as Fromm's, nor a positivistic set of statistics such as

>Frenken's, can on their own or even interleaved with one another properly

>lead to understanding of the transformations in mentalities during the

>break-up of Catholic feudalism and the emergence of Protestant capitalism,

>though obviously they would provide a complementary text/countertext. Each

>on its own is reductive, Fromm dealing with broad generalisations, Frenken

>presenting denuded and decontextualized facts. Together they suggest a

>deeper, more psychohistorical dimension to the history of the Reformation,

>but that suggestion has to be followed through many other layers and

>dimensions of discursive and anthropological analysis.