Hysteria, or what the body knows

You can read about the progress of my new practice-led research work on the depraved epistemology of hysteria here. On the 29th September 2011, I presented a performative paper at the Sensuous Object conference at the Medical Museion, Copenhagen. You can read about it here.

In 2012, Dr Eleanor Bowen and I collaborated on another performative paper, titled ‘The hysteric as mad: unfolding an exquisite corpse’, which we delivered at the 5th Global Conference: Making Sense of Madness, on Saturday 1st September 2012, at Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom. You can read the draft paper here. This paper was then developed into a book chapter (‘Between laughter and crying’) which will be published by ID Press in 2013 in a collection entitled Women, Madness and the Power of Art, which I edited with Frances Davies.

Make me yours: The psychodynamics of seduction through works of art

This is my doctoral research, carried out between 2005 and 2010. You can see and read my PhD here. Below, is the abstract of my thesis.

In Fatal Strategies, Jean Baudrillard argues that music and literature are seductive in themselves. Given his later interest in photography and the work of Sophie Calle, it could be argued that seduction is also an attribute of the visual arts. But what makes a work of art seductive? My research is concerned with the relational and psychodynamic aspects of the encounter between the work of the art and the viewer; one that, when seduction operates, is characterised by interplay, flow and conflict.

The first step towards disentangling this problem is to define seduction, a concept that is contingent, ridden with confusion, contradictions and connotative interpretations, even in the gallery space (as recent exhibitions on seduction demonstrate). Any attempt at pinning down the term, however, shows that it is pervasive and as a ruling principle, it operates everywhere – especially where efforts to study it are made. The problem, then, becomes a methodological one: how might one study seduction as it operates in the encounter with works of art? I put forward a subjective, practice-led approach, comprised of three strands: artistic – in particular photography – psychoanalytic and writing practices. All three enact the self-reflexive methodology that is at the core of the contribution my project aims to make and which is constituted of three steps: recognition, capture and reflection.

The context for the research is multiform, interdisciplinary and is located in converging fields concerned with textual and visual material: eighteenth-century libertine novels, in particular Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the writings of the Marquis de Sade; Giacomo Casanova’s memoirs; Frank Sinatra’s peculiar arrest in 1938; Sigmund Freud’s abandonment of the seduction theory; Søren Kierkegaard’s games between Johannes and Cordelia; Karl Marx’s commodity fetishism; Naia del Castillo’s works, which are linked to Surrealist concerns, and Jacques Lacan’s mysterious objet petit a, the object cause of desire. All these play a part in delineating seduction.

My own (nearly missed) encounter with a work of art, Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés, and a bold shoe in a New York shop window are used as support for the writing, together with the occasional appearances of a detective – who will provide the forensic gaze required of PhD studies – and other minor characters.