Sunday, May 11, 2008
Dr. Heidenhoff's Process
This short novel by Edward Bellamy was published in serial form in 1878 and 1879 and in book form in 1880. It revolves around the notion that even when you have repented a sin, its memory may yet torment you. The protagonist dreams that a Dr. Heidenhoff has an electro-therapy process that can destroy specific memories and thereby liberate his lover from her torment. Reading it reminded me of Ian Hacking's Rewriting the Soul, where he argues, as I recall, that it was just at this time that secular ideas about memory were replacing religious notions about what was central to a person's identity. I found it interesting that Bellamy, in a very different social and intellectual context, was exploring similar ideas about the place of memory. Incidentally it was also at this time that George Miller Beard, who like Bellamy was from Connecticut, was exploring the psychotherapeutic benefits of electro-therapy in the treatment of [indeed, in the conceptualization of] neurasthenia.