Saturday, 19 October 2013

1866, Idiocy and its Treatment by the Physiological Method, Edouard Seguin.

A selection from Idiocy and its Treatment by the Physiological Method, Edouard Seguin, 1866.

Seguin was trained by Itard, who wrote An historical account of the Discovery and Education of a Savage Man, or of the First Developments, Physical and Moral, of the Young Savage caught in the Woods Near Aveyron in 1898. Seguins work would later inspire the methods developed by Montessori.

Note: see Foucault's lecture on the 16 January 1974 on Seguin. 

Moral Treatment

The moral treatment is the systematic action of a will upon another, in view of its improvement; in view for an idiot, of his socialization. It takes possession of him from his entrance in to his exit from the institution; from his opening to his shutting his eyes; from his acts of animal life to the exercise of his intellectual faculties. It gives a social meaning, a moral bearing to everything about him. The influences destined to give moral impulse to the very life of the idiot come upon him from prearranged circumstances,... above all, directly from the superior will which plans and directs the whole treatment.

The surrounding circumstances are to be made... instrumental to our purpose: light or darkness, solitude or multitude, movement or immobility, silence or sounds, etc., are to be chosen or prepared in view of their moral influence on the actions demanded of the idiot.

Whenever that gift [of 'moral powers'] manifests itself, by which a being has an ascendancy over another, we recognize in it, in all its shapes and transformations, the qualification for the exercise of moral training;... wherever found, it is the superior good-will ready to elevate the inferior one.
The relations which this power establishes, are those of authority to obedience.

...authority need not present itself in its historical features of absolutism but assumes more tender forms as soon as it is firmly established.
Nevertheless, whatever may be its form, authority, to be obeyed, must command; in the varieties of its expression, and in their opportunity, resides a large part of the moral power of the commanding over the commanded. When we consider the qualities necessary to render commandment effective, we soon discover that those of speech do not come in the first rank; at least that its action must be preceded and corroborated by that of other qualities which enter for very little, if for anything, into ordinary language.

The first condition necessary to render command effective are lineaments and shape; the second, proportion and attitude. The lineaments of the face or its features, the shape of the body or its proportions, may offer or refuse their concourse to command. The defects of the former are nearly irremediable; those of the latter may be corrected. It is thus that certain lineaments impress the human face with so deep an expression that no other can ever be substituted; or are so rigid that no intellectual or passionate meaning can pierce through their unmeaningness. Nearly the same thing occurs with the shapes of the body and its proportions; some are only ludicrous, and cannot convey any command; others are set naturally in such attitudes of repose, quietness, or the like, as to counteract any command to action. These are only a few of the ways in which features, proportions, and attitudes may impair the efficacy of authority. The exercise of these qualities requires a good organization, mobility of the parts, and a fair sensibility, easily controlled by the will: with these advantages, the face and body are ready to command. Though the eyes are a part of the features, their office is so important that they are to be considered separately. The look is the passionate centre of the physiognomy; all the other parts coordinate their expressions to its, unless skillfully contracted into a mendacious expression, which the eye can rarely imitate. The influence of this organ, as an instrument of moral training, cannot be overrated, whether we consider it from the master's or from the pupil's side. For if the look of the former is alternatively inquiring, pressing, exacting, encouraging, caressing, etc., the look of the latter is avoiding, opposed, submitted, irate, or grateful, borrowing its expression from feelings incited by the former. To obtain this result, the master's look must have taken possession of the other, have steadily searched, penetrated, fixed, led it; and here the constant use of the look, already described in the physiological training, is found corroborated by its use in moral training, and vice versa. 

The influence of the limbs on the effectiveness of command is equally distinguishable from that of the body in their ensemble. The way in which we stand in front of the pupil is not indifferent; and our foothold tells pretty well the degree of our determination. In this respect the various positions of the legs, and consequently of the rest of the body, are very instructive. How many things our attitude alone will command. We can stand before an idiot so that he will remain quiet; we may stand by him so that he shall hasten his steps, or dignify his deportment, etc. The arms and hands are more powerful yet, at least for the command of special movements. The finger directs, averts, corrects, threatens; the hand excites, restrains, forwards, stops, puts down, nearly all expressions of activity. A waving of the hand cheers and encourages; a warning of the finger cuts down an incipient action; with its rise and fall it rules the tide of commanded or forbidden manifestations.
But how far is the easy, monotonous, inexpressive gesture, which hardly accentuates our ordinary language, from impressing the idiot, not only with our meaning but with our will. Gesture then must be subjected to a special education to acquire precision, correctness, quickness, capableness and emphasis; to become capable of speaking of itself, or to complete language; and to assume the force and fluency of an oration that the eye shall follow in all its details as the ear follows a spoken one in its meanderings: on this condition gesture becomes one of our moral powers.

When the parts of the body, not only those studied above, but all fibres, are so harmonized for the mute act of command, there comes forth the speech. Not that speech is necessarily commanding; like gesture, it is rarely so per se, and requires a good deal of art for its maturation.

...we find the majority of [idiots] inattentive, unintelligent, and inobedient to common speech. This difficulty admonishes us that language, even as a means of communication, but more particularly as a mode of ascendancy, is to be heightened above its ordinary expressions to impress idiots.
Thus command is expressed by attitude, corroborated by gesture, animated by physiognomy, flashed by the look, made passionate by the voice, commented upon by the accent, strengthened by the articulation, imposed by the emphasis, and carried by the whole power of the stronger on the weaker will. This power, as expressed here in the abstract, would be the most wearisome attribute of its possessor, and the heaviest burden on children, if it were not incessantly modified by circumstances, and by passing from one person to another; passage in which it loses its tension for the master, and its grim appearance for the child.

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