For much of the last decade, Joanne McKeown, associate professor of French language and literature, viewed the world through the lens of French physician Antoine Despine. The task of translating Despine's 1840 monograph (its second issue) —A Study of the Uses of Animal Magnetism and Mineral Waters in the Treatment of Disorders of the Nervous System Followed by a Case of a Highly Unusual Cure of Neuropathy— required McKeown to mine not only the nuances of the French language, but also arcane medical theories and the very mind of Despine himself. Produced in collaboration with French-born clinical psychologist Catherine Fine and Moravian emerita professor of English Carole Koepke Brown, Despine and the Evolution of Psychology: Historical and Medical Perspectives on Dissociative Disorders is the first English translation of Despine's landmark case study of hysteria, much later called multiple personality disorder, now called dissociative identity disorder.
In 1836, physician Charles Humbert-Antoine Despine was asked to treat Estelle, an 11-year-old girl who had developed a partial paralysis and sometimes heard voices. Unable to identify a physical cause for Estelle's illness, Dr. Despine decided to treat her with a controversial therapy, animal magnetism (now known as hypnosis). With his empathetic manner, Despine was able to facilitate Estelle's healing and that of more than a dozen other patients through hypnosis. His monograph is one of the first documents demonstrating psychotherapeutic alliance.
Despine published the first issue of his account in 1838-9; it included his session notes with commentaries, relevant correspondence, and transcriptions of eight mesmeric sessions recorded by Estelle's mother. Unfortunately, the manuscript had little or no editing, resulting in a fragmented, repetitive and often poorly organized text.
At the request of Carole Koepke Brown, who wanted a translation of Despine’s monograph for another project, Joanne McKeown began the work in 1997. Translating words and phrases was only the beginning, she discovered. "Translation really is an art," she says. "You want to honor the integrity of the work—to capture the original author's voice—while providing something that is helpful to contemporary trauma specialists and historians of the mental sciences."
"Translation really is an art," says McKeown. "You want to honor the integrity of the work."
Some of Despine's writing was ambiguous, she says. Not only were his notes often vague and even contradictory, but "at times he seemed uncertain of what he was observing, so he lacked the language to explain it." For clarity and context, McKeown traveled to France three times, where she toured the physician's home, library, and medical facility; researched professional and family archives; and befriended the Despine family, who contributed invaluable information and support.
In the spring of 2001 Brown and McKeown also recruited Catherine Fine, a French-born clinical psychologist specializing in dissociative disorders, who previously studied Despine's monograph and published on Despine. Fine was able to provide additional insight and technical expertise. Together, the three painstakingly reviewed the translation, page by page, at half-day, weekend conference calls over 18 months, revising as they went along. Extensively annotated, the translation includes relevant contemporary articles, as well as a glossary. Excerpts of Despine's biography, translated by two SOAR students (French majors Kimberly Mabry and Lauren Anderson), appear in the annotations.
Despine and the Evolution of Psychology: Historical and Medical Perspectives on Dissociative Disorders (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), edited and translated by Joanne M. McKeown and Catherine G. Fine, is available from Amazon.com.
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