email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
A Basic Theory of NeuropsychoanalysisA Cursing Brain?A Dream of Undying FameA Map of the MindAfter LacanAgainst AdaptationAgainst FreudAn Anatomy of AddictionAnalytic FreudAndré Green at the Squiggle FoundationAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnna FreudAnna Freud: A BiographyApproaching PsychoanalysisAttachment and PsychoanalysisBadiouBecoming a SubjectBefore ForgivingBerlin PsychoanalyticBetween Emotion and CognitionBeyond GenderBeyond SexualityBeyond the Pleasure PrincipleBiology of FreedomBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCarl JungCassandra's DaughterCherishmentConfusion of TonguesContemporary Psychoanalysis and the Legacy of the Third ReichCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthDarwin's WormsDesert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974)Dispatches from the Freud WarsDoes the Woman Exist?Doing Psychoanalysis in TehranDreaming and Other Involuntary MentationDreaming by the BookEnergy Psychology InteractiveEqualsErrant SelvesEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFed with Tears -- Poisoned with MilkFeminism and Its DiscontentsForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFour Lessons of PsychoanalysisFratricide in the Holy LandFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFreud As PhilosopherFreud at 150Freud's AnswerFreud's WizardFreud, the Reluctant PhilosopherFrom Classical to Contemporary PsychoanalysisFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGoing SaneHans BellmerHappiness, Death, and the Remainder of LifeHate and Love in Psychoanalytical InstitutionsHatred and ForgivenessHealing the Soul in the Age of the BrainHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHidden MindsHistory of ShitHope and Dread in PsychoanalysisImagination and Its PathologiesImagine There's No WomanIn Freud's TracksIn SessionIn the Floyd ArchivesIntimaciesIntimate RevoltIrrationalityIs Oedipus Online?Jacques LacanJacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of PsychoanalysisJung and the Making of Modern PsychologyJung Stripped BareKilling FreudLacanLacanLacanLacan and Contemporary FilmLacan at the SceneLacan For BeginnersLacan in AmericaLacan TodayLacan's Seminar on AnxietyLawLearning from Our MistakesLove's ExecutionerMad Men and MedusasMale Female EmailMelanie KleinMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMental SlaveryMind to MindMixing MindsMoral StealthMourning and ModernityMovies and the MindMurder in ByzantiumNew Studies of Old VillainsNocturnesNoir AnxietyOn Being Normal and Other DisordersOn BeliefOn IncestOn Not Being Able to SleepOn the Freud WatchOn the Way HomeOpen MindedOpera's Second DeathOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsPhenomology & Lacan on Schizophrenia, After the Decade of the BrainPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPsychiatry, Psychoanalysis, And The New Biology Of MindPsychoanalysisPsychoanalysis and Narrative MedicinePsychoanalysis and NeurosciencePsychoanalysis and the Philosophy of SciencePsychoanalysis as Biological SciencePsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis in a New LightPsychoanalysis in FocusPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychotherapy As PraxisPutnam CampQuestions for FreudRe-Inventing the SymptomReading Seminar XXReinventing the SoulRelational Theory and the Practice of PsychotherapyRelationalityRepressed SpacesRevolt, She SaidSecrets of the SoulSerious ShoppingSex on the CouchSexuationSigmund FreudSoul Murder RevisitedSpectral EvidenceSpirit, Mind, and BrainStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherSubjectivity and OthernessSubstance Abuse As SymptomSurrealist Painters and PoetsTaboo SubjectsTalk is Not EnoughThe Arabic FreudThe Art of the SubjectThe Brain and the Inner WorldThe Brain, the Mind and the SelfThe Cambridge Companion to LacanThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Clinical LacanThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Condition of MadnessThe Couch and the TreeThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Dissociative Mind in PsychoanalysisThe Dreams of InterpretationThe Examined LifeThe Fall Of An IconThe Freud EncyclopediaThe Freud FilesThe Freud WarsThe Fright of Real TearsThe Future of PsychoanalysisThe Gift of TherapyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Knotted SubjectThe Last Good FreudianThe Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto RankThe Mind According to ShakespeareThe Mystery of PersonalityThe Mythological UnconsciousThe Neuropsychology of the UnconsciousThe New PsychoanalysisThe Power of FeelingsThe Psychoanalytic MovementThe Psychoanalytic MysticThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Revolt of the PrimitiveThe Seminar of Moustafa SafouanThe Sense and Non-Sense of RevoltThe Shortest ShadowThe Social History of the UnconsciousThe Surface EffectThe Symmetry of GodThe Tragedy of the SelfThe Trainings of the PsychoanalystThe UnsayableThe World of PerversionTherapeutic ActionTherapy's DelusionsThis Incredible Need to BelieveThoughts Without A ThinkerTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTrauma and Human ExistenceTraumatizing TheoryUmbr(a)Unconscious knowing and other essays in psycho-philosophical analysisUnderstanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of PsychoanalysisUnderstanding PsychoanalysisUnfree AssociationsWalking HeadsWay Beyond FreudWhat Does a Woman Want?What Freud Really MeantWhen the Body SpeaksWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Whose Freud?Why Psychoanalysis?Wilhelm ReichWinnicottWinnicott On the ChildWisdom Won from IllnessWittgenstein on Freud and FrazerWittgenstein Reads FreudWorld, Affectivity, TraumaZizek
Elisabeth Bronfen is Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Zurich. The title of the book refers to the naval, a knotted "wound" common to both men and women. The navals "wound" aspect is elaborated upon in the books introduction, illustrated by a description of the work of Marie-Ange Guilleminot, who has made more than ninety plaster casts of navels (5). Of Guilleminots work Bronfen says, "The trajectory that Marie-Ange Guilleminots performance traces parallels, in a nutshell, what is at stake in my inquiry into the configurations of hysteria seen in western culture. Her point of departure is a perturbing and irresistible body detail, the somatic sign of nought...the naval is at once a worthless body part and a cipher for obscene fantasies of erotic or horrific nature involving penetration into the body interior or extracting something from this intimate, unknown site" (7). The purpose of her study of hysteria, Bronfen writes, is to "reinvestigate medical discourses and cultural performances relating to this elusive, protean, and enigmatic psychosomatic disorder as they were developed in diverse psychiatric and psychoanalytic writings; in fictional texts; and in operatic, cinematic, and visual representations from 1800 to the present" (xii).
Bronfens use of the term "psychosomatic" to describe hysteria, indicating its symbolic and psychological function rather than the presence of any actual physical condition or conditions, should be noted. It is also worth noting at the outset that a specifically psychoanalytic interpretation of hysteria is difficult to obtain because there is ambiguity about the very basic task of defining it. Charles Rycroft contends that Freud himself did not produce a definitive explanation of it, and that a "classical" theory of hysteria is elusive at best. Alan Krohn's 1978 monograph on the subject is Hysteria: The Elusive Neurosis. And Elaine Showalters 1997 book Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media [reviewed in Metapsychology July 1997], allots an entire chapter to the subject of defining hysteria, at the beginning of which she concedes that the term is a "designation for such a vast, shifting set of behaviors and symptoms...that doctors have despaired of finding a single diagnosis" (Showalter, 14). This was as true in the 19th century as it is now, as G.M. Beard's list of the broad array of neurasthenic symptoms in his 1880 text A Practical Treatise on Nervous Exhaustion shows:
tenderness of scalp; dilated pupils; sick headache; pressure pain in head; irritable eye (asthenopis); noises in ears; atonic voices; concentration inability; irritability; hopelessness; morbid fear; blushing; insomnia; tenderness of teeth; dyspepsia; sweating and dryness of mouth; spinal hyperesthesia; palpitations; spasms; exhaustion; neuralgias; sexual disabilities; yawning; impotence, etc. (Beard, cited in Walter Bromberg, M.D., The Mind of Man: A History of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, 152).
And the remark of French physician Charles Lasègue in 1878 that "the definition of hysteria has never been given and never will be...the symptoms are not constant enough, nor sufficiently similar in form or equal in duration and intensity that one type, even descriptive, could comprise them all" (Charles Lasègue, "Des hystéries périphériques," Archives générales de médecine, I [June 1878]: 655; cited in Micale, Approaching Hysteria, 109 n.3) is echoed in the twentieth century by Edward Shorter: "Writing a history of something so amorphous, whose meaning and content keep changing, is like trying to write a history of dirt" (Showalter, 15, citing Shorter, "The Reinvention of Hysteria," Times Literary Supplement, June 17, 1994, 26).
Bronfen offers a detailed history of medical and cultural interpretations of the phenomenon called "hysteria" through an exposition of both the clinical descriptions of Freud, Charcot and Janet, and fictional depictions in the writings of Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, and Anne Sexton, in opera (Mozart and Wagner), in cinema (Cronenberg, Hitchcock, and Woody Allen), and in visual art (Marie-Ange Guilleminot and Cindy Sherman). Bronfen describes these works as portraying a relationship between hysteria and "self-representation." Hysteria is the "language of discontent," functioning as "a strategy of self-representation and...[structuring] the subject in relation to knowledge" (40). Bronfen also emphasizes that hysteria is not gender-specific, that is, it is not the product of "dissatisfied feminine sexual desire." Her interpretation returns to Freuds "initial interest in finding a traumatic rather than a sexual etiology of hysteria, [the] conversion of psychic anguish into a somatic symptom [that] can be interpreted as the enactment of a message in code" (xii-xiii). Thus, central to Bronfens thesis is her view of hysteria as "...a cultural construction rather than...a strictly clinical syndrome...interpretive narratives embedded within an existent repertoire of cultural images" (40). As part of her thesis she also argues that, "If hysteria is to be understood as the performance of a given historical moment, then the hysterics voicing discontent allows the critic to analyze what has gone awry in this particular cultural formation" (104). Bronfens wide-ranging exploration of the manifestations of hysteria will be of interest both to clinicians interested in a cultural exploration of hysteria and to students of the cultural products she elaborates upon: literature, the cinema, art, and opera.
Naomi Gold is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Toronto School of Theology. Her dissertation discusses and critiques the way in which psychoanalytic object-relations theory has been used by theologically-committed analytic writers to validate theological belief systems. She has degrees in theology and religious studies, and has an active interest in the history and development of "New Age" religion, religious cults, and the psychology of religious belief.