Sunday, March 28, 2010

Questions

A Question for all the girl-poets out there: What are your feelings regarding writing and hysteria? I've just read a paper by Elaine Showalter ("Hysterical Narrative", in Narrative 1.1, Jan '93), that argues that it's association w "women's writing" is counterproductive, because of it's history of negative connotation and as a tool of oppression (the obvious counter-argument would be analogies with the "N-Bomb" and "Queer", etc). My interest in H. comes from my experience of the pathologization of the psychologically non-normative, reclaiming madness as a positive sight of production/expenditure, so I'm not totally clued up on gender here (though I wouldn't consiter myself normatively masculine.... but being a hetrosexual male this becomes a very foggy zone where there is no camp (no pun intended) - I've been both gay-bashed and straight-bashed - would you believe it?))

Any Thoughts?

15 comments:

Kate Zambreno said...

well, i'm not a girl-poet, but i'll try to answer...showalter makes a good argument in the female malady that hysteria is always feminine, both its language origins/associations also of course freud's famous cases were all women...deleuze writes about hysteria in art in the Hysteria chapter of his Francis Bacon book, but never brings up gender. It's problematic to bring up writing and hysteria without bringing up gender. But I think it's interesting to reappropriate hysteria as a writing strategy, something I do in my own criticism/writing- although you cannot make the correlation with racial epithets, that's not really what Showalter means, she's saying valorizing hysteria as an aesthetic strategy is in some ways not recognizing the real bodily suffering and oppression that hysterics did suffer. It's not really about the word. It reminds me of Shoshana Felman asking for reparations for women when she spoke to the APA...So yeah so many male writers/theorists (Breton's convulsive beauty, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Delezue) who fetishize and valorize the feminine hysteric, taking it on...yeah that's problematic. Because so many women have been institutionalized because of this or other female maladies. Men too of course but Showalter makes the argument that if a man is seen as mentally ill, he's read as feminine within the culture.

It's a similar argument Clement and Cixous have in Newly Born Woman, where Cixous valorizes the hysteric, and Clement sees Freud's hysterics as ultimately being contained by the system. Kind of similar to the argument of Artaud's schizophrenic writing - if we glorify writing as schizophrenic, are we dismissing the very real pain and suffering schizophrenics suffer?

Showalter's Female Malady and Hystories are interesting reads.

Cy Mathews said...

Are boy-poets allowed to respond?

(according to the BBC website brain-gender test, my brain is 60% female anyhoo...)

Ross Brighton said...

Cy - yes.

Kate - I'm just heading out the door; will respond in full soon-ish.

Cy Mathews said...

I think the concept "hysteria" should be handled with caution, not only for the (very good) reasons Kate describes, but because, historically, it's fundamentally unsound. Any kind of perceived abnormal behavior in a woman was able to defined as "hysterical" - hell, it virtually made "crazy" and "woman" synonymous.

As for appropriating it; a comparison would be appropriating 19th Century hierarchical theories of race, or, say, phrenology - potentially toxic concepts that require large doses of irony to be rendered harmless.

Ross Brighton said...

I've been thinking a lot about this (and reading) - I think there's an in-depth post gestating.

Kate Zambreno said...

for me as well - a lot of the semiotext(e) book will deal with this, hysteria, writing hysteria and schizophrenia, the gendering of this...the male theorists and writers who fetishize hysteria...

KD said...

Reclaiming hysteria is like reclaiming demonic possession. Use the irrational force of it against the captors. And against the "self" in the abject sense.

KD said...

This is Kate Durbin, by the way.

Johannes said...

I would add that "hysteria" is not a concept that is over. I think it's incredibly pervasive, if only implicitly. That's why in my review of American Hybrid I used the term to suggest what that anthology seemed most to want to repress (the influence of Ginsberg, Plath for example, the out-of-control speaker, the violent poem, the transgressive poem, the poem that does not know how to behave). Either by excluding or through very weird editorial selections (Alice Notley for example or Laura Mullen).

Considering my recent post on the spasmodic aesthetic I guess I am on of those men who valorize hysteria. And I am not troubled by that.

Johannes

Johannes said...

That sounded too flip. I am aware of the history and I think Breton's use of say Nadja is pretty reprehensible. But all the same, ever since i started writing poetry - and really long before that - the spasmodic body is what I've been interested in. There are reasons for that and I will talk more about it on my blog but I don't want to syrup up this comment field with my ideas about it.

Johannes

Kate Zambreno said...

Johannes - I valorize hysteria too as well, as an aesthetic. I just think it can be sticky if we forget history and context of the term, as you write as well, and how it has been applied mostly to woman, or the feminized...beauty can be convulsive, yes, let's celebrate that, but the Surrealists really fetishized the hysteric, the mental patient. But these convulsive spasms they suffered, the paralysis and paresis as well as a sort of emotional paralysis, a containment by society, was real suffering, was painful (I am made more aware of this as I'm rereading Freud's case histories now, Anna O and Dora).

i think it's always important to circle back to the history. This is the same debate Clement and Cixous have in Newly Born Woman.

My whole point answering Ross is it's impossible (I think) to talk about hysteria without thinking of its gendered context, even if we're talking about male hysteria. In my opinion male writers, the Surrealists, etc. have been hysterics, or Eliot, a great article by Wayne Koestenbaum on the hysteria of Eliot, but Eliot was not the one put away for his hysteria, Vivienne was. Flaubert can be a hysteric but still author. To hystericize a woman is to put her automatically into the object position.

I think the only one of the Surrealists this was done to was Artaud. Artaud the Surrealist Schreber.

Kate, I love what you write about reclaiming.

Now Ross I'm writing too much about this! We should all write about this on our own blogs!

Ross Brighton said...

Somehow Kate Z's latest comment dissapeared as I tried to publish it, so here is is:

Johannes - I valorize hysteria too as well, as an aesthetic. I just think it can be sticky if we forget history and context of the term, as you write as well, and how it has been applied mostly to woman, or the feminized...beauty can be convulsive, yes, let's celebrate that, but the Surrealists really fetishized the hysteric, the mental patient. But these convulsive spasms they suffered, the paralysis and paresis as well as a sort of emotional paralysis, a containment by society, was real suffering, was painful (I am made more aware of this as I'm rereading Freud's case histories now, Anna O and Dora).

i think it's always important to circle back to the history. This is the same debate Clement and Cixous have in Newly Born Woman.

My whole point answering Ross is it's impossible (I think) to talk about hysteria without thinking of its gendered context, even if we're talking about male hysteria. In my opinion male writers, the Surrealists, etc. have been hysterics, or Eliot, a great article by Wayne Koestenbaum on the hysteria of Eliot, but Eliot was not the one put away for his hysteria, Vivienne was. Flaubert can be a hysteric but still author. To hystericize a woman is to put her automatically into the object position.

I think the only one of the Surrealists this was done to was Artaud. Artaud the Surrealist Schreber.

Kate, I love what you write about reclaiming.

Now Ross I'm writing too much about this! We should all write about this on our own blogs!

Kate Zambreno said...

but i want to say too johannes that i've been super inspired by your recent work on the spasm! just for me hysteria is this rich yet complicated terrain.

Ross Brighton said...

Johannes - don't worry about syruping up my blog - you're totally welcome here!

I agree that there are goods that can come from the reclaimation project, especially as a liberatory/de-pathologising process, however there are issues that need addressing. I was reading the Anne Golomb paper "Is Psychoanalysis a Poetics of the Body?" (which is inherently flawed and problematic for reasons far to convoluted and numerous to go into here), and she raises a good point regard, something (I can't quite remember, and don't have the paper at hand) about conceptions of Hysteria often displacing the pain of the analytic process (which I would recast as the pain of the Hysteric/Mad subject). The fact that there is an exchange involved, and a price paid for the emancipatory experience of madness should not be under-emphasised; cf Plath, Janet Frame, Artaud...

Ross Brighton said...

Sorry,there seems to be something wrong with the computers in the Graduate Lab at uni - they keep deleting comments when I try and publish them.

Kate Z again:

but i want to say too johannes that i've been super inspired by your recent work on the spasm! just for me hysteria is this rich yet complicated terrain.