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Hysteria Today

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Hysteria, one of the most diagnosed conditions in human history, is also one of the most problematic. Can it even be said to exist at all? Since the earliest medical texts people have had something to say about 'feminine complaints'. Over the centuries, theorisations of the root causes have lurched from the physiological to the psychological to the socio-political. Thanks to its dual association with femininity and with fakery, the notion of hysteria inevitably provokes questions about women, men, sex, bodies, minds, culture, happiness and unhappiness.To some, it may seem extraordinary that such a contested diagnosis could continue to merit any mention whatsoever. Surely we all now know better. Nonetheless, after being discarded by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952, it has continued to make its appearance, not least in later editions of the DSM, in the form of 'hysterical neurosis (conversion type)' or craftily rebranded as 'histrionic personality disorder'. In contrast with the old-fashioned cliche of the cantankerous malingerer, Jacques Lacan has associated the hysteric with the scientist and seeker after truth. Hysteria Today is a collection of essays whose purpose is to reopen the case for hysteria and to see what relevance, if any, the term may have within contemporary clinical practice.Contributors include Vincent Dachy, Anouchka Grose, Darian Leader, Genevieve Morel, Leonardo S. Rodriguez, Colette Soler, and Anne Worthington.

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Chapter One - Hysterics Today

ePub

Leonardo S. Rodríguez

A long history

Hysteria and hysterics have occupied physicians, philosophers, playwrights, and poets since antiquity. They have been a key presence in the history of psychoanalysis since its inception, and Freud credited a hysterical patient with having made a substantial contribution to the creation of the psychoanalytic method, when this was only in its gestational phase (Freud, 1895d, p. 56). Yet, having adopted them since the nineteenth century, the psychiatry of our times tends to avoid the use of the terms “hysteria” and “hysterics”, and prefers other nomenclatures to designate clinical phenomena that, from a psychoanalytic perspective, are typically hysterical. The last edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not even mention hysteria, while the psychoanalyst will recognise hysterical phenomena (even if not exclusively) throughout that text under a diversity of headings: “Anxiety disorders”; “Dissociative disorders”; “Somatic symptom and related disorders”; “Sexual dysfunctions”; and probably under other categories (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

 

Chapter Two - Hysteria Today

ePub

Darian Leader

In 1936, a survey at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Clinic showed that out of 3840 cases seen over the previous ten years, there was not a single example of the “grand attack” described by Charcot and witnessed by Freud in the 1880s and 90s (Pisk, 1936). Later commentators would also note the absence of the spectacular symptomology of the Salpêtrière, with the explanation that either hysteria no longer existed or, more commonly, that it had simply changed its form.

The claim that hysteria ceased to exist can hardly be taken seriously for a simple reason. For both Charcot and Freud, the symptoms of hysteria were fabulously changeable. An anaesthesia could transform into a contracture, a paralysis into a neuralgia. What mattered was less the content of the symptom than what place it occupied for the sufferer and what it gave voice to. As anthropologists would soon demonstrate, culture contained “symptom pools” which could be borrowed from in order to articulate a discontent. Deprived of any other means to communicate their malaise or their pain, the subject would use the symptoms available in a culture as “idioms of distress”.

 

Chapter Three - Beyond Queer?

ePub

Anne Worthington

What is hysteria? And what does psychoanalysis have to say about it today?

A young woman consulted an analyst as she was unable to come to a decision as to whether to join her lover, who had taken up a prestigious job in another country. Some weeks later, she described how she had been referred to an “ear, nose and throat” specialist as she had difficulties in swallowing. Careful questioning by the analyst elicited the information that her symptom originated with the news of the death of her beloved baby brother (as she referred to him) in a road traffic accident. The analyst, familiar with the many psychoanalytic commentators (for example: Appignanesi, 2008; Bollas, 2000; Moncayo, 2008; Verhaeghe, 2004) who have discussed the disappearance of hysteria into new diagnostic categories, was surprised to hear that the ENT specialist diagnosed globus hystericus. Indeed, the disappearance of hysteria is also a contemporary theme for non-psychoanalytic clinicians1. Furthermore, the diagnosis of globus hystericus itself, characterised by a feeling of a lump in the throat, and/or difficulties with swallowing, associated with anxiety or “severe life events” (Harris, Deary, & Wilson, 1996) without a detectable underlying organic condition, which is more frequently found in women, is beginning to transmute into different diagnostic terms, for example, globus sensation or, more succinctly, just referred to as globus. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, reduced to just hystericus. Nevertheless, perhaps like hysteria itself, with its plasticity of symptoms that reflect the expectations of its historical and cultural context, up it pops again as a descriptive category, to name the as yet unspoken suffering of this twenty-first century woman in a twenty-first century London hospital.

 

Chapter Four - Necessity and Seduction: A Section of Hysteria

ePub

Vincent Dachy

Onset

From Antiquity through the Middle Ages the conceptions of hysteria ranged from “uterine migration” to “diabolic possession”. The anatomical investigations of the Renaissance inaugurated paths towards “modern medicine”, which contributed to the formation of psychiatry and, famously in the case of hysteria, to Charcot. Then came Freud, whose place in this hystory remains distinct. But, for some sixty years or so in more recent history, diagnostic manuals of mental disorders have gradually whittled down hysteria, as a category, leaving it in the depot of history, only to keep the symptom of conversion in their arsenal. Do some people want hysteria to disappear? Do some people object to the name itself: far too sexist and rooted in bygone superstitions not to be rendered obsolete? Or has hysteria simply disappeared? After all, everybody knows the predilection of hysteria for the figure of the Father and, if it is true that this figure has been dwindling for a century or two, perhaps hysteria has finally faded away accordingly?

 

Chapter Five - Fifty Shades of Literary Success: The Vampire's Appeal

ePub

Geneviève Morel

Translated by Kristina Valendinova

Fifty Shades of Grey, written by British author E. L. James (2011) and quickly followed by two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, was first published in New York in April 2012. Usually seen as part of the “erotic romance” genre, it sold one million copies more quickly than any other book in the history of publishing, outselling both The Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter series, and beating all other records in terms of both the number of copies sold and the rapidity of sales.1 So far, it has sold seventy million copies worldwide. However, despite its commercial triumph, Fifty Shades has also been tremendously controversial, as shown by the split reviews on online booksellers’ websites. Moreover, with rare exceptions, most critics have found it “poorly written”, “tedious”, “deserving of the name ‘grey’ but completely lacking in ‘shades’”, “implausible”, “soppy”, “insipid or corny”, full of platitudes and clichés, of banal eroticism, and so on and so forth.

 

Chapter Six - Hysteria, A Hystory

ePub

Colette Soler

Translated by Kristina Valendinova

Speaking about hysterics, Lacan used the word “hystorics”. The equivocation was intriguing, but it could easily pass for just a clever throwaway line. I would like to consider its implications. Its meaning is twofold: first, that hysterics tell stories,1 and we must ask about those stories, and how they are being told. Yet it also means that, historically, hysteria has always been in a state of flux: it changes, at least in form, so we can say that, depending on the context, the stories hysterics tell us are not always the same.

I should remind you that when we say “hysteria”, which, in French, is a feminine noun, it tells us nothing about the hysterics’ sex—they may be male or female. Neither can hysteria be defined solely on the basis of one type of symptom; the so-called mechanism of conversion, from psyche into soma, as they used to say. In Freud's time, these conversion phenomena represented a great intellectual challenge because they showed the degree to which language and discourse can have an effect on what, precisely, is not language—namely the organism. The problem is that conversion is not hysteria's prerogative. This “speaking with one's body” (as Lacan puts it in Encore: “I speak with my body and I do so unbeknownst to myself. Thus I always say more than I know”, 1998, p. 119), discovered by psychoanalysis in its very beginnings, is not specific to hysteria. It is a formula of what I have called a “generalised conversion”—only this “speaking with one's own body” speaks all by itself. We know that the symptom, whatever form it takes, is always self-sufficient, and that we need the artifice of discourse in order for it to become a demand, a form of address. In other words, we need to insert the symptom into a social bond. The drive itself asks for nothing. True, it is searching for something—the surplus enjoyment in the place of the Other—but it takes it without asking permission. The drive always authorises itself.

 

Chapter Seven - …As if I did not Know…(Allurement)

ePub

Vincent Dachy

One day you are flicking through a magazine of some entertaining nature with the appropriate absentminded attitude when, inadvertently, you bump into a questionnaire. Usually you do not give it half a glance. But this time is different, the title reads “What kind of woman are you?” Irresistible.

Here it is.

Discover, at last, your “proton aletheia”

Please answer “Yes” or “No” to all questions below.

Answers overleaf

 

If you have wanted to answer “may be” and “‘perhaps” to most questions,

You are reasonable and all is good if you believe it.

If you have wanted to throw away the magazine a few times during the reading of the questionnaire,

You cheeky thing but subversion may still lie a little way away.

If you have answered “yes” to all questions above,

You are right but it might have been a fluke.

If you have answered “no” to all questions above,

You are even more correct or were you just moody?

 

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