Naamah Akavia - Writing “The Case of Ellen West”: Clinical Knowledge and Historical Representation

Akavia , Naamah. Writing “The Case of Ellen West”: Clinical Knowledge and Historical RepresentationScience in Context 21(1), 119–144 (2008). (PDF file)

“The Case of Ellen West” was published by the Swiss psychiatrist, Ludwig Binswanger, in 1944–1945. The case-history depicts the illness and suicide of a young woman who was his patient twenty years earlier. It came to be considered one of the paradigmatic studies of the newly established discipline of Daseinsanalyse, an attempt to synthesize existential philosophy and therapeutic practice. This paper analyzes the case-study, employing newly uncovered archival material to expose important details regarding the treatment of Ellen West (a pseudonym) and the posthumous writing of her case-history. The richness of the archival sources and the various historiographical characteristics they exhibit raise methodological questions about the potentialities and limitations of historical representation. The new data will thus serve as a platform from which to explore and discuss more generally the problems involved in historical reconstruction – of both subjective experience and clinical knowledge – and the questions of authorship and intertextuality in the genre of the case-history.

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