Echos, Doubles, and Delusions: Capgras Syndrome in Science and Literature

Draaisma, Douwe
September 2009
Style;Fall2009, Vol. 43 Issue 3, p429
Academic Journal
Literary Criticism
Mark Schluter, the main protagonist in Richard Powers's The Echo Maker (2006), suffers from Capgras Syndrome, a disorder characterized by the patient's delusional belief that his near ones are replaced by doubles. Since its initial identification in 1923, Capgras Syndrome has had a two-stage history. Until the 1970s the delusion was explained in terms of psychodynamic forces, assuming, for instance, that creating a double was the patient's subconscious way of handling mounting tensions between ambivalent feelings towards his near ones. As a rule, these explanations were based on case histories, which were dealt with as narratives. In the 1980's, however, Capgras Syndrome came to be seen as caused by a neurological deficit, severing the connection between visual and emotional recognition of familiar faces. This explanation originated from research on the neurological representation of face recognition. In my paper I argue that by introducing two doctors for Mark -- the one, Hayes, a modern, experimentally oriented neurologist; the other, Weber, an old-school neurologist versed in case studies--Powers succeeds in collapsing chronologically disparate stages in the history of Capgras Syndrome into a contemporary clash between two scientific styles. In/this way Powers seems to present the best of both worlds: a narrative orientation to give a voice to the perspective of a patient struggling with his identity, and a state of the art neurological account of the organic lesion causing the loss of identity in the first place.


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