Thursday, April 1, 2010
The above line is from Eliot's Hysteria, his short prose poem depicting the grotesque figure of a woman, most likely modeled on Vivienne, trying to escape from the horrors of her body/presence, a grande guignol of femininity. Eliot who too was a hysteric (Wayne Koestenbaum has written an excellent essay on the figure of the female hysteric in "The Waste Land," standing in for the male hysteric (author).) Although of course Eliot was a hysteric, but he wasn't punished for being a hysteric, he was the artist, Flaubert was the hysteric, but he was the artist, Fitzgerald, yes, and then what of Nadja? What of Vivienne? Zelda? What of the fictional Emma oh Emma my poor Emma? I'm thinking so much of hysteria lately, male hysteria, female hysteria, how I valorize hysteria in a way, reclaiming it as an aesthetic, I am problematizing this as well, looking at the history of hysteria, what Elaine Showalter calls hystories, thinking, thinking...And this all comes out of Johannes' recent post about the spastic in Lady Gaga, which he links to Breton's convulsive beauty, and then Ross Brighton's recent query regarding the gender of hysteria. I should add that I'm EXHAUSTED in a grande, yes, hysterical mode, my hand is fluttered above my forehead, I am posed just so, you cannot see me but it is true, I am arranged in such a position to suggest the most languorous theatrical form of exhaustion, I have taken to waking at 5am the past week and doing intense yoga at 6am, which leaves me a zombie the rest of the day, I think I'm craving being exhausted, like a fume. So I apologize if you are going to be eating my word salad.I might be babbling.
Anyway. Will this go anywhere? We will have to see. First perhaps I will list what I have been reading, it is an impossible constellation of things, and I have gouged myself with them, and I am full, and I am digesting. And I must vomit. I have read Lidia's Loving Dora, which accomplishes I think in being a hysterical text, an answer, in a way, Dora's fragmented, bodily, ecstatic answer to Freud's completed narrative. And then thinking of Cixous' play on Dora, using the language of the hysteric, dreams events memories fantasies. For that is what's interesting about the hysteric narrative, I believe (and I'm chugging this morning Elaine Showalter's Hystories, this morning her chapter on Hysteric Narrative, I'm doublefisting a fantastic book, Georges Didi-Huberman's Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere, no I don't use accents, sorry! is a blog!) is the narrativity of it. Narrativity? Yes. The sense of the psychoanalyst coaxing a complete ordered narrative out of the hysterics this is the cure Anna O. named, the talking cure. So this happens literally in some modernist texts, like Tender is the Night, Dick Diver is the psychoanalyst writing of Nicole, her interrupted speech, her fragmented lovely letters, borrowed from Zelda, this is where it becomes like life, Fitzgerald the author-doctor, coaxed a coherent narrative out of Zelda's written fragments, but to me the most interesting parts of Tender is the Night are what I call the Zelda parts, they are the hysteric parts, the stops and gaps and weird rhythms, same with Great Gatsby, Daisy's flapper speech surreal and associative...and the flapper is the next hysteric....and the hysterics were actresses...And Zelda wrote a book of her same experiences, just like Schreber wrote a book, but they were not read, they were not seem as the dominant (to be believed?) narratives, they are the Cassandra narratives.
But I'd say, give me the insane texts over the sane texts any day. As Showalter notes, Freud focused on the fragmented and discontinuous narrative of Dora, attempting to give it coherence (so the doctor is the artist, the doctor invents, creates, as Charcot choreographed hysteria by posing his muses, so Breton invents Nadja as the muse of convulsive beauty, Fitzgerald invents the flapper). But the other case study that I'm really interested in is Breuer's Anna O., which Freud also writes up, I have read that recently as well, and I am really taken by Anna O. being a writer herself, a writer who could not be (the hysteric is silent, disempowered, different than the writer-hysteric who is not silent, although perhaps writes with the automatism of the hysteric, the fragmented stops and gaps). Letters of Mina Harker: "yet all that was sick or hysterical about her behavior in day to day life could be turned into something valuable through the act of writing." Anna O. writing her fairytales, she is theatrical, she stages her own private theater, telling tales, who wrote in different languages, with Roman letters, babbling glorious nonsense. But none of it survives. I would love to write a text like Anna O. I would love to write Anna O's text.
But when we speak of Freud's hysterics we are really only talking of petit hysterie, Freud's stars, the "marvelous women" Lacan references, all of our MYTHS of hysteria from the history of psychoanalysis were female. When we speak of the spectacle of hysteria and glorifying the spasmatic spectacle of it we are talking of Charcot's supermodels, his spectacle at La Salpetriere, where once a week he would parade his working-class madwoman and they would vogue, they would strike various poses of the attitudes passionelles, sometimes hypnotized (and this hearkens back to old Dr. Mesmer hypnotizing hysterical Viennese ladies in the late 18th century), sometimes through suggestion." And who was at La Salpetriere (the woman's hospital?) The "feminine dregs of society." Who were given their certificate of punishment. A public parade of women "exhibiting their drooping breasts and their open gowns, writhing." Such an abject image - these were women seen as vulgar, seen as vagrants, so were mocked for their suffering whether it was authentic suffering or not, this was the first reality tv in a way, like Jerry Springer, everyday working-class woman could become actresses could put on a show. And he would stage his (younger, lovelier) hysterics in a series of acrobatic poses and seizures in his photographs, (Augustine was the best at these, mockery, anger, eroticism, ecstasy, surprise)and these women became celebrities.
But to me this was a public spectacle of atrocity much like Foucault describes in that elaborate gory passage at the beginning of Discipline and Punishment, the ecstatic detailed description that goes on for pages of a man being drawn and quartered. What people greedily gathered to witness was a spectacle of pain, of torment, we do not know whether Charcot's theatrical hysterics were really in pain, we know Freud's probably were, with their paresis and paralysis, that they were communicating mutely through their body language, kicks and ticks and eyerolls, we do know that hysteria is highly suggestive, contagious in a way, the socially appropriate ways women learn they can act out, they can enact violence. As Elaine Scarry writes it is difficult to know to understand the body in pain to put oneself in the role of the Other. This is the nature, the intimacy of pain. But Charcot's hysterics were at least convinced they were in emotional and maybe physical torment, or were at least enacting it, the precursors of performance artists like Marina Abramovic and Sylvia Plath in "Lady Lazarus,"the poem borrowing from the tradition of Charcot's theater, the female mental patient as actress, psychiatry as a sort of magic act, look at our miraculous girls carved in half, we can sew them back up again, sew their narratives back up together again. And think too how many actresses in the studio star system were mental patients! They were invented, constructed as well, by the gaze, by the adore, by the publicity department, by the studio, and they performed a spectacle of ecstasy and suffering, these attitudes passionelles. Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Veronica Lake, Vivien Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, they were the next generation of Freud's hysterics, all "tormenting tormenting" as Anna O. repeats. The link between the actress and the hysteric.
Interesting too is that Charcot called his spectacles of hysterics choreas, after their resemblance to dance. Images from the spectacles at the Salpetriere crossed over into the cabarets, where performers mimicked the jerkiness of the hysteric seizure, the French style of acting closely resembled the poses of the grande hysterie, Showalter writes. "Indeed, hysterical women at the clinic and fallen women in melodrama were virtually indistinguishable; the theater historian Elin Diamon comments that both displayed 'eye rolling, facial grimaces, gnashing teeth, heavy sighs, fainting, shrieking, choking; 'hysterical laughter' was a frequent stage direction as well as a common occurence in medical asylums.'" Dances at the Moulin Rouge, cabaret performers, writers, actresses, dancers, all attended the Friday performances at La Salpetriere and mimicked the "pathological choreography" of Charcot. Then think too how Wilde's Salome became so inspirational for modern dance, the dance of the seven veils Louise Brooks performed...And Breton's aesthetic of convulsive beauty was inspired by the female hysterics, only the young pretty ones, "we like nothing so much as youthful hysterics," and was practiced in Surrealism through the fetishizing and fragmenting of the female body, Bellmer's poupees, based on the poses of Unica Zurn, binded in an attitudes passionelles, the ropes cutting off her naked body.
I *think* I am making a point. I think the point I am trying to make is that we can valorize the hysterical narrative, although Showalter disagrees me, reclaim in fact a poetics of hysteria (as Cixous calls for), but while I think looking at the authentic suffering, and those who have been silenced. And I think it's difficult to reference hysteria without referencing history. And hysteria has been historically gendered, has been a disorder of the feminine body. Since ancient Greece hysteria was seen as a female disorder, the result of a traveling uterus, classified by convulsive fits, choking, etc. By the 19th century the dominant language of mental illness was the language of nerves, and was seen as exclusively feminine. Foucault writes that by this time women's bodies were "hystericized," and the epidemic of hysteria at this time was almost exclusively female. By the early 20th century men, veterans, began to be diagnosed as hysterics, but were called the more masculine "shell shocked." But hysteria has been historically almost overwhelmingly been seen as a feminine disorder, and Charcot's language for his hysterics definitely deals with expected gender norm, and as Showalter writes, he "fell back on stereotypes that equated it with the female personality. Hysterics were seen as vain and preoccupied with their appearance, deceitful and self-dramatizing." Lacan too felt that the hysteric was exclusively feminine, a woman or man "struggling with their sexual identity." The male hysteric is an interesting figure, he did exist, of course, Charcot studied many male hysterics (and he named their spectacular convulsive attacks "clownisme" like the circus), but none of them became stars or myths, but a male hysteric was considered a deviant of his gender (which maybe is even more of a reason to reclaim the male hysteric as Louise Bourgeois does, in her bronze sculpture "The Arch of Hysteria," taking the male body as object of art, which references the acrobatics of Charcot's male hysterics). And Artaud oh I wanted to write more about Artaud, Artaud who writes the abject disgusting body, his own body with its convulsions and torments and screams, although Artaud is classified as psychotic, a Surrealist Schreber. "The cultural denial of male hysteria is no accident: it's the result of avoidance, suppression, and disguse...Predictably, nineteenth-century doctors forced to acknowledge strong emotion and other hysterical traits in men often concluded that their patients were unmanly, effeminate, or homosexual."But it was male writers in the fin de siecle who became obsessed with the female hysteric - Ibsen's heroines, Oscar Wilde's Salome, Madame Bovary. And then of course modernist novels like Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway that deals with the male hysteric, the shell-shocked veteran (my Malachi in my O Fallen Angel is based on Septimus Smith, he is my mystic-hysteric, actually all the characters are hysterics.)
And what is the point I'm making? It seems to me, with the exception of Artaud (who again, I see as a woman. Like Schreber who actually thought he was a woman! Or my crossdressing Dr. Matthew O'Connor! ARTAUD IS A WOMAN BECAUSE HE WAS PUT AWAY) that the GREAT MEN who fetishized the historic, whether it be Baudelaire and Mallarme and Flaubert or the modernist/Surrealists, they channeled hysteria, but they were not objects, but authors, subjects. (This is what naming someone a hysteric does, it makes someone an object (body) not a subject, Hal Foster writes in his Compulsive Beauty which I USED to own but I lent to a student and it still makes me sore). I see this as a slumming. They fetishized the actress-hysteric, or later the spastic flapper-girl, the witty mystic, the lovely mental patient, they sucked her bone-dry. A possession narrative. Linking demonic possession narratives with the mystics with the hysterics. All narratives told by the male authority figure. Who possessed these women. Dora so much an object of barter, she is passed from Daddy to Herr K to Siggy...
So what I crave are possession narratives (a nod to Kate Durbin) about a mental patient coming back to reclaim what is hers, her body, vomiting out a scream, a language of excess. The Dionysian wrestled back from The Apollonian, but it is the priestess who wrestles it back, the priestess who was a prostitute, who was supposed to kneel at the altar, her self sacrificed in the name of art.
A sort of vampirism. Or dubbing. And this leads me to Artaud, the spectacle of possession Artaud would perform, delivering his lecture on the Theater and the Plague at the Sorbonne, enacting his crucifixion, his passion on his body (and passion is a suffering). It is no surprise he was the only one who could see in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, another story of a director/actress who choreographed her attitudes passionelles, he was a cruel director, he had her kneel on the floor for hours. But Artaud saw Joan, Joan of Arc, the possessed Cassandra not to be believed, who Charcot later reclaimed as a hysteric (Clement and Cixous argue over the differences between the mystics and the hysterics, I would say time period, ability to grasp otherness, to see a woman as a prophet figure as opposed to mad).
And I just read recently a very interesting essay about an essay Artaud wrote on dubbing, again the link to actors, he saw a sort of horror of it, of someone else's words coming out through the mouth of Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo (interesting too he used female stars as his example), a sort of terrible possession. And the author of the essay makes the link that Artaud was fascinated with the myth of the dybbuk, the Jewish myth of repossession of one's body by the tortured soul of a suicide (AS! WAS! PLATH! I love these connections) and wanted to translated the play The Dybbuk, both so interested in possession, so possessed later in their life with a creative force, a voice, a scream, their bodily writing, who wrote too of soul murder.
Sorry for the vomit. I am now thinking, thinking, about all of the mad mad criminals in Nightwood, Djuna Barnes' histrionic text, its convulsive beauty, which is wonderful,extraordinary, I will write about soon, although Nightwood is too wonderful, is too much the perfect text, perhaps I should assume now the hysterical pose of defeat.