Mad Men And Medusas
It has become fashionable in the West to argue that hysteria has disappeared, indeed to challenge the notion that it ever existed. Hysteria's symptoms, first recorded by Hippocratic doctors in the fifth century B.C., were attributed to supernatural causes in the Middle Ages. The medicalization of hysteria in the 17th century moved its site from the womb to the brain, allowing it to be equally available as a diagnosis for men. In the 19th century, when hysteria appeared to be epidemic, Jean-Jacques Charcot photographed and classified hysterical patients and the symptoms were nicknamed "mysteria". But what exactly is hysteria, and is it still with us? Do we need the term to describe the consequences of experiences that are fundamental to the human condition in all societies and without which we lose an understanding of those experiences, for both women and men? This volume offers a transhistorical and cross-cultural description of hysteria in which Juliet Mitchell argues that it is always a potential human condition with varying but persistent manifestations in different cultures and at different times. Using examples from anthropology, Freud's case studies, literature and other psychoanalytic theories informed by her own clinical work, Mitchell contends that while hysteria may have disappeared as a disease, it is the medical and psychological understanding not hysteria itself which has vanished. In pursuing the origins of hysteria and hysterical symptoms, the author develops a major new psychoanalytic theory that stresses lateral relationships over generational ones. While not contesting the importance of the Oedipal complex Mitchell argues that its discovery has blocked our understanding of hysteria, the great omission in both psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice. After a sweep through the major theories of hysteria in the 20th century, the author makes an impressive and convincing argument for the resuscitation of hysteria in understanding the human condition.