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Inventing a Pathology of Catastrophe for Holocaust Survival [The Limits of Medical Knowledge and Historical Memory in France]

Michael Dorland

Publication Year: 2009

In this extraordinary study, Michael Dorland explores sixty years of medical attempts by French doctors (mainly in the fields of neuropsychiatry and psychoanalysis) to describe the effects of concentration camp incarceration on Holocaust survivors.
Dorland begins with a discussion of the liberation of concentration camp survivors, their stay in deportation camps, and eventual return to France, analyzing the circulation of mainly medical (neuropsychiatric) knowledge, its struggles to establish a symptomology of camp effects, and its broadening out into connected medical fields such as psychoanalysis. He then turns specifically to the French medical doctors who studied Holocaust survivors, and he investigates somatic, psychological, and holistic conceptions of survivors as patients and human beings.
The final third of the book offers a comparative look at the "psy-science" approach to Holocaust survival beyond France, particularly in the United States and Israel. He illuminates the peculiar journey of a medical discourse that began in France but took on new forms elsewhere, eventually expanding into nonmedical fields to create the basis of the "traumato-culture" with which we are familiar today.
Embedding his analysis of different medical discourses in the sociopolitical history of France in the twentieth century, he also looks at the French Jewish Question as it affected French medicine, the effects of five years of Nazi Occupation, France's enthusiastic collaboration, and the problems this would pose for postwar collective memory.

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xv

This is the part where the writer of a book thanks the many people and organizations in various countries who assisted with access to the research materials that provide the core information for a work of nonfiction. And these invariably convey...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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Introduction: My French "Jewish Question"

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pp. 1-13

I am both a citizen of France and a Jew of the Diaspora, having grown up during the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and educated in English and French. Given the timeframe of my undergraduate university education — the explosive...

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Figure 1: The Real

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pp. 14-54

As a way to start, we begin with a fiction (or quasi-fiction) that is both a representation and a symbolization: the highly successful and acclaimed HBO series Band of Brothers (2001), which follows the experiences of the men...

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Figure 2: Condensation

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pp. 55-89

As the excerpt above suggests, the return of the former deportees from captivity forms a unique representation: atrociously thin, licebitten, often still in their striped camp uniforms, with big staring eyes that quickly darted...

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Figure 3: Displacement

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pp. 90-143

In the previous chapter, we saw how the figure of the concentration camp survivor eventually came to center upon one particular idea; namely, that the survivor was the physical and psychical incarnation of the pathological — the abnormal...

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Figure 4: Inversion

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pp. 144-174

The French Resistance signified many things: a rallying point during the war for those who found the defeat of 1940 and the Nazi Occupation untenable; the armed struggle against the Occupier; an internal political struggle between Gaullists...

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Figure 5: Dilemma

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pp. 175-200

As we have just seen, the survivor was figured entirely through the perspective of the Holocaust. But except for its lasting psychic consequences, the Holocaust itself, and in the main the extermination of European...

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Figure 6: Conclusion: Prosthesis

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pp. 201-208

In her 2000 book on trauma, Ruth Leys had stressed the profound and unresolved oscillation between mimetic and antimimetic theoretical explanations of traumatic experience. In the first instance, because of the extremity...


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pp. 209-230


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pp. 231-261


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pp. 263-275

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781584658788
E-ISBN-10: 1584658789
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657842

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 667077421
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cadaverland

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Prisoners of war -- Mental health -- France.
  • Imprisonment -- Psychological aspects.
  • Prisoners of war -- Rehabilitation -- France.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Psychological aspects.
  • Holocaust survivors -- Mental health -- France.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Influence.
  • Pathology -- Philosophy
  • Medicine -- Philosophy.
  • Psychiatry -- Philosophy.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder -- Treatment -- France.
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