Tag Archives: hysteria

New Books Network Podcast Interview: Sabine Arnaud’s On Hysteria

Now available on the New Books Network is an interview with Sabine Arnaud on her recent book On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820. As the New Books Network describes,

Sabine Arnaud‘s new book explores a history of discursive practices that played a role in the construction of hysteria as pathology. On Hysteria: The Invention of a Medical Category between 1670 and 1820 (University of Chicago Press, 2015) considers a wide range of issues that are both specific to the particular history of hysteria, and more broadly applicable to the history medicine. Arnaud pays special attention to the role played by language in the definition of any medical category, basing her analysis on a masterful analysis of a spectrum of written medical genres (including dialogue, autobiography, correspondence, narrative, and polemic) that have largely been forgotten by the history of medicine. Arnaud asks, “What made it possible to view dozens of different diagnoses as variants of a single pathology, hysteria?” The answer can be found in a long process of rewriting and negotiation over the definition of these diagnoses enabled this retrospective assimilation, which was driven by enormously diverse political and epistemological stakes. In a series of fascinating chapters, the book interweaves the history of hysteria with studies of gender, class, literature, metaphor, narrative, and and religion. It’s an expertly-researched and compellingly-written account that will amply reward readers interested in the histories of medicine and gender.

The full interview can be heard online here.

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New Articles: Psychosomatic Illness, Crania Americana, & Hypnotism

A number of new articles of interest to AHP readers are now in print. Relevant articles from the most recent issues of Subjectivity, the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, and History of Science are listed below.

Subjectivity

Psychosomatic feelings as memory practices,” by Elena Trivelli. The abstract reads,

I here explore the manifestation of problematic memories on a psychosomatic level, with a focus on the work of psychiatrist Franco Basaglia (1924–1980) in the Italian city of Gorizia. As Basaglia transformed the local asylum into a Therapeutic Community during the 1960s, the city became a nationally acclaimed pilot for alternative psychiatry. After he left in 1968, Gorizia’s characterisation in the media shifted from being a radical experiment to a failed revolution, and the city has since held an ambiguous relationship with this heritage. Using the data gathered through an ethnography conducted between 2011 and 2012, I suggest that the controversial vicissitudes of ‘the Basaglia experience’ and the attempts to erase their emotional weight in Gorizia have left traces that I frame as embodied remembering practices. In discussing psychosomatic expressions of social discomfort, I formulate a body that is both somatic and psychological, contributing to a field at the intersection between psychoanalysis, trauma and affect studies.

Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

Panic and Culture: Hysterike Pnix in the Ancient Greek World,” by Susan P. Mattern. The abstract reads,

Starting perhaps in the second century BCE, and with Hippocratic precedent, ancient medical writers described a condition they called hysterike pnix or “uterine suffocation.” This paper argues that uterine suffocation was, in modern terms, a functional somatic syndrome characterized by chronic anxiety and panic attacks. Transcultural psychiatrists have identified and described a number of similar panic-type syndromes in modern populations, and a plausible theory of how they work has been advanced. These insights, applied to the ancient disease of hysterike pnix, demystify the condition and illuminate the experience of the women who suffered from it.

History of Science

The fear of simulation: Scientific authority in late 19th-century French disputes over hypnotism,” by Kim M. Hajek. The abstract reads,

This article interrogates the way/s in which rival schools studying hypnotism in late 19th-century France framed what counts as valid evidence for the purposes of science. Concern over the scientific reality of results is particularly situated in the notion of simulation (the faking of results); the respective approaches to simulation of the Salpêtrière and Nancy schools are analysed through close reading of key texts: Binet and Féré for the Salpêtrière, and Bernheim for Nancy. The article reveals a striking divergence between their scientific frames, which helps account for the bitterness of the schools’ disputes. It then explores Bernheim’s construction of scientific authority in more detail, for insights into the messiness entailed by theorizing hypnotism in psychical terms, while also attempting to retain scientific legitimacy. Indicative of this messiness, it is argued, is the way in which Bernheim’s (apparently inconsistent) approach draws on multiple epistemic frames.

National types: The transatlantic publication and reception of Crania Americana (1839),” by James Poskett. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Articles: Psychosomatic Illness, Crania Americana, & Hypnotism

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New JHN: Transnational Psychosurgery, Phantom Limbs, & More

A new issue of Journal of the History of the Neuroscience is now online. Included in this issue are articles on psychosurgery as a transnational movement, artists and phantom limbs, and sex and gender in organology. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“A Transnational Perspective on Psychosurgery: Beyond Portugal and the United States,” by Brianne M. Collinsa & Henderikus J. Stam. The abstract reads,

The history of psychosurgery is most often recounted as a narrative wherein Portuguese and American physicians play the leading role. It is a traditional narrative in which the United States and, at times, Portugal are central in the development and spread of psychosurgery. Here we largely abandon the archetypal narrative and provide one of the first transnational accounts of psychosurgery to demonstrate the existence of a global psychosurgical community in which more than 40 countries participated, bolstered, critiqued, modified and heralded the treatment. From its inception in 1935 until its decline in the mid-1960s, psychosurgery was performed on almost all continents. Rather than being a phenomenon isolated to the United States and Portugal, it became a truly transnational movement.

“Phantoms in Artists: The Lost Limbs of Blaise Cendrars, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Wittgenstein,” by Laurent Tatu, Julien Bogousslavsky & François Boller. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHN: Transnational Psychosurgery, Phantom Limbs, & More

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Social History of Medicine: Madness & Sexuality, Child Psychiatry, & More

The May 2014 issue of Social History of Medicine includes several articles that may be of interest to AHP readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Madness and Sexual Psychopathies as the Magnifying Glass of the Normal: Italian Psychiatry and Sexuality c.1880–1910,” by Chiara Beccalossi. The abstract reads,

By focusing on Italian psychiatric debates about sexual inversion this article shows how Italian psychiatrists came to argue that there was no clear-cut boundary between normal sexual behaviour and sexual perversion, and traces the debates and fields of knowledge that contributed to the development of such a position. First, it shows how French psychiatry shaped Italian views on sexual psychopathies. Second, it demonstrates that in Italy, psychiatric research on so-called sexual psychopathies was from its inception part of a wider debate about the blurred boundary between sanity and insanity. Third, it reveals how sexologists embraced various theories of evolution, which implied that sexual perversions were latent in any normal individual. The article argues that despite the fact that in Italy same-sex desires were pathologised in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, historical accounts that emphasise such a pathologisation obscure psychiatric positions that endeavoured to normalise same-sex desires.

“The Rise of Child Psychiatry in Portugal: An Intimate Social and Political History, 1915–1959,” by Angela Marques Filipe. The abstract reads,

In recent decades, the study of the history of medicine and psychiatry has grown and interest has been developed in the particular social and institutional configuration of fields such as child psychiatry. That historical literature has, however, accounted mainly for the Anglo-American world and a research gap persists with regard to other national contexts. Drawing on a historiography of medical archives in Portugal, this paper aims to analyse the social, institutional and political conditions behind the rise of child psychiatry. Such an analysis will inquire into the international, national and local factors that played a part in that historical process and suggests a periodisation beginning in 1915, when the Medical-Pedagogic Institute was first created, and concluding in 1959, when ‘child neuropsychiatry’ was finally recognised by the Portuguese Medical Board.

“Heroes and Hysterics: ‘Partisan Hysteria’ and Communist State-building in Yugoslavia after 1945,” by Ana Anti?. The abstract reads,

This article investigates a novel type of war neurosis defined by Yugoslav psychiatrists in the aftermath of the Second World War. This uniquely Yugoslav war trauma—‘partisan hysteria’—was diagnosed exclusively in Communist resistance soldiers—partisans—and did not manifest itself in the form of battle exhaustion or anxiety, as was the case in other armies. Rather, it demonstrated a heightened willingness to fight, and consisted of simulations of wartime battles. Yugoslav psychiatrists argued that ‘partisan hysteria’ most frequently affected uneducated and immature partisans, who were given important political responsibilities but experienced severe trauma due to their own inadequacy. I argue that ‘partisan hysteria’ served as an opportunity for upper-middle-class psychiatric professionals to criticise the increasing upward social mobility after the socialist revolution of 1945. Surprisingly, this touched upon an issue that had already provoked deep disquiet within the Communist Party, and resonated with the Party’s own concerns regarding social mobility.

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The Return of Hysteria?

Hysteria is a condition strongly associated with the 19th century, and with long-past historical figures such as Jean-Martin Charcot and Sigmund Freud. It was finally dropped from the psychiatric vocabulary in the mid-20th century because of its uncertain scientific basis, and because of the widespread perception that it was being used more as a way to control the behavior of women who did not conform to social norms than to label a coherent psychiatric condition.

A recent column in the New York Times, however, suggests that hysteria has made a comeback in the very same population that it was thought to be most prevalent in in times long past: teenage girls and young women. Author Caitlin Flanagan recounts the story of “a high school cheerleader” in a town near Buffalo, NY, who “lay down for a nap,” last October “and woke up changed….  facial tics, uncontrollable movement, stuttering, verbal outbursts.” She continues, “several other schoolmates have been afflicted, for a total of 14 girls. One boy reported symptoms.”

Continue reading The Return of Hysteria?

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