«J. Stewart Professor Shapka Humanities 200 March 21, 2009 Two Ways of Hacking Up People Both Alfred Hitchcock and Ian Hacking have engaged in ...»
March 21, 2009
Two Ways of Hacking Up People
Both Alfred Hitchcock and Ian Hacking have engaged in projects that explore some idea
of “personality disorder” within particular models of personhood. Ultimately, both
propose some clear problems for self-knowledge. My goal is to examine what models of
personhood, as well as which issues of self-knowledge, are here at stake, first in Psycho, 1
and then especially in Hacking’s seminal paper “Making Up People.” 2 I will suggest how Psycho is faithful to a general Cartesian picture of mind, and what problem this implies. I will then examine what issues of personhood and self-knowledge are at stake for Hacking. My interest is to show how Psycho contributes to a particular understanding of Hacking’s work.
Part I Making It Scary: Multiple Personality according to Hitchcock There are important and interesting reasons why Hitchcock’s Psycho is a fascinating and terrifying film experience. Much to Hitchcock’s credit, knowing ahead of time how the movie turns out in the end does not detract from its effective creepiness. What becomes more incredible and haunting than the horrible acts that Norman Bates commits is the explanation offered of why he did what he did. Or, more appropriately, why he didn’t do what “he” did.
At its end, the film suggests that it is possible to interpret what Norman Bates did, and at this point Hitchcock truly begins to tell a horror story. Much more shocking than All references to Psycho are taken from the 1960 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock (MCA Home Video, trademark 1987).
Ian Hacking, “Making Up People,” in Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, ed. Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellbery (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1986).
Stewart 2 some fatal knifings committed in a shower is not so much the idea that “person” and “body” do not necessarily come in 1-1 ratios, but further that it is possible to be denied access to and awareness of some other consciousness going on in your head and having a relationship with the actions of your body. This is the wildest attack of first-person authority possible while still affirming its basic premises: Sure, you and only you have direct access to your thoughts and feelings, but what if there are times when the Cartesian projector is running, but “you” are not in the theatre?
To explain what specific Cartesian inheritance I mean, let’s examine how the audience is invited to accept a particular story of Norman Bates, a story that is faithful to the Cartesian-style picture I just mentioned. The final scene of Psycho, the “explanation,” is given through none other than a representative of the institution of psychiatry. The scene begins with all the characters (who are still alive) waiting in a room. The Sheriff notes, “Well if anyone can get any answers, it will be the psychiatrist. Even I couldn’t get to Norman, and he knows me.” At that point, right on cue, the psychiatrist enters the room. “Did he talk to you?” someone asks. “No” is his reply. Following a pause, the
I got the whole story. But not from Norman. I got it … from his mother. Norman Bates no longer exists. He only half-existed to begin with. And now, the other half has taken over … probably for all time. (emphasis mine) What follows is the testimony of this expert as to the profound state of Norman’s mental confusion. He explains how Norman Bates came to commit matricide (which the psychiatrist claims is “the most unbearable crime of them all. Most unbearable to the son who commits it”), develop a seriously paranoid and disturbed manifestation of dual personality, and murder at least three other women and two men. As we are told by the psychiatrist, Norman’s story unfolds according to the following kind of pattern. It begins with a certain type of environment: A dysfunctional relationship with his mother (she is highly manipulative and demanding) and pronounced isolation (he lives entirely alone with his small family). Next, a specific kind of event: One that is highly shocking and traumatic (the sudden death of his father). This event intensifies the dysfunctional nature of his environment, for now he is entirely alone with his overbearing mother in complete isolation. (The psychiatrist takes care to note with emphasized disdain: “His Stewart 3 mother was a clinging, demanding woman. And for years, the two of them lived as if there was no one else in the world. Then, she met a man….”) Their relationship is degenerate enough for Norman to be highly disturbed at this point, and when his mother takes a lover, his intertwined existence with her is dangerously threatened. It proves to be the catalyst of a series of fatal intrusions upon this isolated world that shapes Norman’s highly fragile psyche. As the psychiatrist continues, He was simply doing everything possible to keep alive the illusion that his mother was alive. And when reality came too close … when danger or desire threatened that illusion … he dressed up. Even used a cheap wig he bought. He’d walk about the house, sit in her chair, speak in her voice. He tried to be his mother. And aah … now he is. Now that’s what I meant when I said I got the story from the mother. You see, when the mind houses two personalities, there’s always a conflict. A battle. In Norman’s case, the battle is over. And the dominant personality has won. (emphasis mine) This explanation gets off the ground only if Norman Bates is straightforwardly a Cartesian subject with respect to constitutive self-knowledge. 3 That is, unless we understand that the ability to access his innermost thoughts, feelings, and memories is necessarily a privileged ability constitutive of Norman as an agent, then it could not make sense to say that his mind “houses” a personality, let alone more than one. Norman’s personality is itself understood as that self-contained set of memories, feelings, and intentional states to which Norman has introspective access. Norman is positioned as a self-knowing subject insofar as his knowledge is grounded in certainties about access to his mental states.
Ultimately, however, Norman Bates is given a legitimate claim to not knowing about the “self” who committed these murders. Norman, apparently, has no access to the experiential memory of killing Marion Crane and others. The move that says “Norman” does not have access to these “other” memories, and that therefore these other memories belong to someone other than Norman, is a move that still takes the criteria of personhood to be self-contained, first-person privileged access. This move still identifies Not to mention some kind of psychoanalytic example of degenerate attachment to unstable parental figures.
Stewart 4 agents as a set of first-person accessible thoughts and memories. As soon as Norman fails to be a collection of self-contained, first-person accessible thoughts, he fails to exist as anything we can make sense of as a proper agent. Suddenly, we insist on making sense of him as two agents, since (we want to say) there are, now, two sets of first-person accessible thoughts.
The personality who does remember killing those people is now, according to the psychiatrist, the only personality laying claim to the present experiences of this body. We ought to say, according to the psychiatrist, that “Norman Bates” no longer exists. Norman Bates no longer satisfies the necessary criteria of existing as an agent: The personality defined as and through the unification and edifice of Norman Bates’s experiences is simply no longer responsive, no longer “there.” Although we might still identify a body as somehow still “Norman’s,” since there is no longer the right kind of evidence of Norman’s personality, Norman no longer exists. Here, personality itself is understood as that agency with privileged access to innermost thoughts, feelings, and memories. I take this to be thoroughly Cartesian in that Norman loses his status as a subject insofar as his definition as both the set of innermost mental states and the access to those states is suddenly jeopardized. 4 The problem with this whole picture is that the kind of self-knowledge necessary for (agented) personhood seems to be a matter of first-person authority without any guarantee of access to the right set of complete memories relative to a body (usually, for all purposes, your body). In other words for Norman, some crucial memories otherwise linked with his body seem to be curiously missing from his repertoire. Since personality means, at least in part, having access to your memories, the effective omission of these memories from Norman’s personality and their configuration elsewhere into a unified experiential memory are the basis for the claim that some other personality “owns” those For crucial critiques of the Cartesian assumption of innermost feelings, thoughts, and memories as mental states assigned to individual subjects, and of the consequences of Cartesian individualism in the philosophy of psychology, see Naomi Scheman’s
Engenderings: Constructions of Knowledge, Authority and Privilege (New York:
Routledge, 1993), especially “Anger and the Politics of Naming,” “Individualism and the
Objects of Psychology,” and “Though This Be Method, Yet There is Madness in It:
Paranoia and Liberal Epistemology.” It is unfortunate that I do not have room to discuss Scheman’s argument.
Stewart 5 memories. The instrument of Hitchcock’s horror is thus not mere fiction, but the threatened reality of the terrifying possibilities of a self-contained psyche.
For the purposes of this paper, I have situated the theoretical model of memory and personhood at work in Hitchcock’s film as faithful to a general Cartesian picture of mind. We should care about this problem since it challenges a general, if not doxastic, view of personality and self-knowledge as precisely linked to Cartesian-style accounts that ground self-knowledge, memory, and indeed agency in first-person privileged access. In other words, Psycho presents a good model of the underlying Cartesian assumptions embedded in particular psychological discourse and practice, as well as particular philosophical discourse and practice. 5 Part II Making It All Up: Hacking on Personhood What is Hacking up to in “Making Up People” that is of relevance to my previous discussion of Psycho? Particularly, Hacking makes a claim regarding multiple personality disorder (MPD) of the kind we have been discussing. He juxtaposes MPD with two other categories of what he calls “ways to be a person.” These are the category of gayness and the Parisian garçon de café. What could these three have in common, you ask? Hacking’s particular interest in multiple personality is a reading of its quite recent clinical history.
He says, “I claim that multiple personality as an idea and as a clinical phenomenon was invented around 1875…. Do I mean there were no multiples before [then]? Yes.” 6 Hacking is engaged in the project of suggesting that evolving discourses that name categories of persons and the people actually in those categories “evolve hand in hand.”
To this end, he has made claims like the following:
People spontaneously come to fit their categories.
Making up people changes the space of possibilities for personhood. 7 In some cases, that is, our classifications and our classes conspire to emerge hand in hand, each egging the other on. 8 This model is by no means universal, and to the extent that it is widespread, it may also be waning.
Hacking, “Making Up People,” 223.
Stewart 6 If new modes of description come into being, new possibilities for action come into being in consequence. 9 … our spheres of possibility, and hence ourselves, are to some extent made up by our naming and what that entails. 10 To my understanding, these quotations, and indeed Hacking’s position, suggest a kind of constitutive relationship between individuals and the establishing of categories of kinds of persons. But what does Hacking have in mind, exactly, when he says that people “spontaneously” come to fit their categories? Surely he doesn’t mean 1) that people come to fit their categories “out of the blue,” or 2) that spontaneity is somehow the key force to which we should attribute being constituted at all. Whatever he means has provoked him to distinguish the unfolding of gays and garçons de café from the unfolding of splits.
Hacking says “multiple personality, the homosexual or heterosexual person, and the waiter form one spectrum among many that color our perception…. Whatever the medico-forensic experts tried to do with their categories, the homosexual person became autonomous of the labeling, but the split is not…. [T]he class of waiters is [also] autonomous of any act of labeling.” 11 So what does Hacking see as “autonomous” about gays and garçons de café but not about splits? First, it is of course understood that the point about the appearance of the gay person is actually a point about the appearance of the “heterosexual” and “homosexual” kinds of person. The idea that we have “sexualities,” and further that those have “orientations,” and even further that these divide people into natural kinds, is a (dubious) notion that has only recently been put into practice. Naturalization aside, being straight or gay or anything in between is considered a way to be a kind of person, and definitely not only with respect to sexual activity.
With regards to the garçon de café, we are speaking about the showing up of a phenomenon inextricably embedded in a particular social climate and context. What did this special waiter have out of the ordinary? Here we should, as Hacking does, ask for Sartre’s description: “His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too Ibid., 228.