Reading / gHosting Hysteria

Research output: Contributions to conferencesPaperpeer-review



Georges Didi-Huberman writes about how hysterics and doctors at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris in the nineteenth century were linked in a performance of “psychiatric theatricality,” starting with a “Coup de Théâtre,” a sudden loss of consciousness. These performances involved public attacks and poses which were categorized into four phases by Charcot. They were recorded in the archive known as the Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière, overseen by Paul Richer, a professor of artistic anatomy at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. The synoptic table of hysterical symptoms is an index of tiny drawn shapes set out in columns. These drawings categorise the stages of “La grande hysterie.” Years later, Sigmund Freud, Charcot’s pupil, popularized the writing format of the clinical case history, revealing not only conditions and treatments, but the profound relation between patient and analyst. Charcot’s inscriptions and Freud’s narrations, though, speak in the doctor’s voice. And yet the hysteric is miming something beyond what the images and words capture.

In order to find out what this something beyond words and drawings is, I have developed a performance creation method which I call “gHosting,” a play of words referring to the hosting of a ghost. The method is directly related to the hysteric, as Christopher Bollas’ hysterical theatre is “always something of a séance, as ghosts of the past are brought into some strange light and the hysteric feels himself or herself to be something of a medium for the transition of the absents into a type of materialisation.” This, in the past, gained them accusations of making symptoms up, of wanting attention and resources. All part of their performance, according to the doctors. I find Augustine, Emmy von N., Dora and other hysterics in between the written and traced lines and listen attentively. Peggy Phelan states that “Hysteria . . . involves the use of the patient's body as a stage for the body of the other” so the hysterics inhabit my body and in this new location, they find voice to encounter individual members of the audience in a one-to-one durational performance.

In his theory of the Four Discourses, French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan ascribed knowledge to the discourse of the hysteric, over those of the master, the analyst and the university. He did, however, make a distinction between hysteria as a condition, and the hysterization of discourse. This paper outlines intersemiotic translation and gHosting as embodied methods for the creation of performance works about historical hysteric patients. It will then offer this method as one that can be utilised for reading, in the broader sense, from case histories to films and recent political events, exploring the relation of this mode of reading to knowledge production. Through studying classic clinical struggles around the hysteric, I hope to disentangle how the mimetic quality of hysteria—its ability to take on culturally permissible expressions of distress—is key to the fascination and the threat of the condition.


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 1 Nov 2018
Event#masshysteria: Hysteria, Politics and Performance Stretegies - UCLA Royce Hall, Los Angeles, United States
Duration: 1 Nov 20181 Nov 2018


Conference#masshysteria: Hysteria, Politics and Performance Stretegies
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLos Angeles
Internet address

Author keywords

  • hysteria, performance, freud, Dora, Ida, translation