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Localization and Its DiscontentsA Genealogy of Psychoanalysis and the Neuro Disciplines$
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Katja Guenther

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226288208

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226288345.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 18 October 2021

In the Exercise Hall

In the Exercise Hall

Otfrid Foerster, Neurological Gymnastics, and the Surgery of Motor Function

(p.96) Chapter Four In the Exercise Hall
Localization and Its Discontents

Katja Guenther

University of Chicago Press

Chapter four shows how Otfrid Foerster, like Freud, drew on the systemic aspects of the reflex in order to challenge the assumptions of the localization tradition. Working in the context of the neurological and neurosurgical departments of the Breslau state hospital, Foerster re-conceptualized nervous disease by an appeal to a “reflex community,” which allowed him to sever the one-to-one connection between lesion and function that had been assumed in Meynert's pathological anatomy. Understanding it within the reflex system, Foerster showed how sensory damage could have motor consequences. The realization had important therapeutic consequences. Confronted with a flood of wounded soldiers after the Great War, Foerster developed a spinal cord operation that would cut the reflex arc in order to isolate the pathological effects of a lesion. Later on, Foerster extended his operation to the brain in the treatment of epilepsy. Complementary to his surgical interventions, the “plastic” elements of Meynert's reflex system were redeployed in what Foerster called “exercise therapy.” Because the nervous system could be shaped by experience, it was possible to establish a new “organization” of nerves, a process in which certain members of the “reflex community” were recruited for new tasks.

Keywords:   Otfrid Foerster, neurology, specialty-formation, epilepsy, spinal cord operation, reflex community, therapy, Breslau, physical therapy, Rockefeller Foundation

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