dr. kim hajek
My training and career to date have comprised a mix of history of science and French literary studies, with a particular emphasis on reciprocities between scientific and literary knowledges. I bring this commitment to ‘reading scientific texts like novels’ (to borrow Jacqueline Carroy’s phrase) to the Narrative Science project, in which I primarily explore how narrative textual forms articulate with forms of ‘narrative knowing’. To put it another way, how do textual practices—literary techniques, narrator roles or voices, projected readers or modes of reading—contribute to narrative ways of knowing?
My thematic focus concerns the texts of French psychology as it emerged as a self-consciously scientific field of enquiry over the period roughly 1870–1914. Here, I build on my earlier work examining the “golden age” of hypnotism in France (c.a. 1878–1890)—how researchers engaged hypnotism as science during this period, and how interactions with literary knowledges also shaped the contours of that science. See my LSE profile page or Google scholar profile for a list of publications. In 2021, at the end of the Narrative Science project, I joined a new project at the University of Leiden, 'Scholarly Vices'.
Narrative knowing in French psychology
It is uncontroversial to note that nineteenth-century psychological texts often took a narrative form. This is particularly the case for those texts that constituted the currency of scientific knowledge-making: researchers’ “observations” of their subjects, or what we would call their “case histories” in today’s English. Freud’s comment about his cases on hysteria resembling short stories is notorious. But well before Freud’s time, physicians played with literary forms, as did Joseph Grasset in his “Roman d’une hystérique” (Novel of a hysteric) of 1890, an observation presented to his medical students, while novelists like Emile Zola or Jules Claretie insisted that their works were (also) “studies” with the potential to contribute to scientific knowledge.
As part of the Narrative Science project, therefore, my work does more than simply take account of these narrative forms. Rather, it investigates the variety of narrative strands and textual styles taken by psychological observations, and asks how they functioned to constitute and disseminate psychological knowledge—individually and collectively. Indeed, each of my major research topics takes up the question of how narrative knowing emerges across and between sets of observations.
Re-telling the stories of psychology: Félida X…
In one strand, I direct attention to the now little-discussed observation of Félida X…, first published by Bordeaux surgeon Eugène Azam in 1876. From the mid-1870s through to the turn of the twentieth century, Félida, her “doubled personality” or “two lives,” and attendant “periodical amnesia” were the subject of enormous debate in philosophical, medical, and psychological circles (not necessarily distinct) in France and abroad. Azam himself issued more than twenty updates or reiterations relating to Félida’s case, while reports, critiques, and responses to the case appeared across medico-psychological journals, in popular scientific reviews, in the political press, and in translation.
I use close reading of these tellings and re-tellings of Azam’s observation to ask how researchers’ epistemic exigencies articulated with the ways they configured Félida’s story. It is striking, for instance, that Azam relates much of his own journey of discovery in the 1876 observation, alongside his observations of Félida proper, and her views on dealing with her condition. Which of these intertwined stories are retained and which are altered or discarded as other savants take up the case for their own purposes? How do Azam’s plot-lines or narrative style change (or not) as he continues to follow the progress of Félida’s condition? Which details remain necessary to re-tell the story as it becomes exemplary, as psychology becomes established as a science, and when can a short reference to Félida invite readers to re-run the story for themselves?
As a fixed story, told over and over again, Félida’s multiple observations serve as a case-study for when and how narrative forms are fundamental to making broader knowledge from a particular (psychologist-subject) interaction—and whether narrative functions in different ways as a scientific discipline consolidates its authority. Concomitantly, it allows us to track the processes by which Félida’s case emerges as exemplary and how that emergence might parallel the emergence of psychology as a scientific discipline.
Categorisation, suggestion, and psychotherapy
My other research focus concerns the ways psychological knowledge is generated through and across large sets of observations, such as the collections of some one hundred clinical observations on hypnotism and suggestion published by Hippolyte Bernheim, chief exponent of the Nancy school of hypnotism and fervent supporter of the therapeutic benefits of suggestion. At issue here is the role of narrative in bringing together many smaller chunks of knowledge—here themselves mostly narratives in their own right.
This intersects with questions about classification and category formation, with psychological observations tending to appear—in book indexes or in their diagnostic titles—under some category of condition/disease or phenomenon. How do category headings—like Bernheim’s névroses psychiques (psychical neuroses) or névralgies (neuralgias)—shape the narratives that are generated within and across them? And conversely, how are individual observations configured to constitute spaces of medico-psychological diagnosis and treatment? Or do some observations function to trouble those processes of categorisation and analysis?
We can also ask about the textual form and narrator voice employed in these observations, and whether it matters for constituting categories that these are so varied in Bernheim’s texts. Who narrates psychological observations, and what epistemic function can be given to other voices present in the story? In the rare cases when subject-narrators tell their own stories of nervous illness and treatment, we can find evidence of a polyphonic production—a co-production—of psychological knowledge. Do we also find polyphony in observations narrated by an authoritative physician-narrator, or only in observations of certain patient-classes, such as private patients? And how do co-produced stories in particular observations articulate with researchers’ more authoritative statements in critical comments or discursive monographs?