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Culture and Hysteria

The Letter, Issue 3, Spring 1995, Pages 45 - 52


Rob Weatherill

On 16 April 58, Lacan writes about Freud that his 'only mistake, as one might say was, drawn along in a way by the necessities of language, to orientate in a premature fashion, to put the subject, to implicate the subject in too definite a fashion in this situation of desire'.[1] This would by now be a familiar Lacanian complaint about the non-Lacanian treatment of the hysteric; that is, as I understand it, the consideration of hysteria outside the context of the construction of human subjectivity itself. Here, the non- Lacanians see the sexually-coloured excessive demandingness of the hysteric within the narrower context of some fundamental failure of the early infantile environment. If only this had been good enough, integrative enough, then there would be no need for the later pathologies of the hypersexualisation of adult life. From this perspective, then, the analytic task becomes one of re-integration of the aberrant pregenital impulses which are seen to be so disastrously disruptive of the normal happy life we have all come to expect.

Hysteria is seen, then, ultimately as deviant, demonic, dangerous - unanalysable if we take Zetzel's fourth category.[2] Here is the description. These patients are floridly hysterical, and unable to distinguish between phantasy and reality. Frequently, they will have been to more than one therapist. They have few areas of conflict-free interests; their defences are directed towards controlling external reality. In this grouping the developmental history will reveal one or more of the following findings: significant absence or separation from one or both parents during the first four years; serious pathology in one or both parents, often associated with divorce or unhappy marriage; prolonged illness in childhood; ongoing hostile/dependant relationship with mother, who is seen as either devaluing or devalued; absence of meaningful and sustained relations with either sex. Any two of these, combined with a regressed transference, should constitute a warning signal, she says.

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