Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria by Sigmund Freud *****

Reading dates: 24 January – 28 March 2016

Reading Dora’s case history, reading it with real attention, is the first step of my ghosting method, the one I adopted to develop a one to one durational piece, Ida, which I showed as part of Buzzcut festival on Friday 8 April 2016. What happened when I performed it is for another post.

Reading in this way, trying to find Ida’s voice in between the lines of Dora is exhausting. It is like tracing every single letter with my hands and questioning each word’s meaning. I had read Dora before, but never like this. I feel I embroidered the whole book (maybe that’s my next piece). But the story is fascinating. I let her live in me, I lent her my mouth to speak her words, my body for her to breathe again. I was possessed by this story and when the spirit left me, I was limp, empty. But I had to let her speak. Her analysis, as we have it, is only a fragment, it is incomplete, and often Freud’s interpretations infuriated me (oh the reticule, so easy, so so easy!). I wrote him out of my piece. I listened to him, but like one listens when one is paying attention to something else that is more important.

While reading, I distilled her voice, and wrote her words by hand. This is very important. By hand, with my hand. Then I typed them and then I recorded them, with my voice. Then I listened to them and put my own voice back in my body, through my ears. I looked for Ida in Freud’s words. I found her, recorded her her voice, made it mine. We mixed, to the point that I lost the sense of where she was and where I began. She was not in me. She was like adding salt to water. The water becomes something else and I think she transformed me forever. Reading is one thing, but reading with one’s whole body is something that I know I need to take sparingly and with care, for I offer myself, I give myself up to an other which, in this case, is disturbed by betrayal (a disturbance I also share). I now need to find a way of taking the salt out of the water without evaporating. Is that even possible? An exorcism?

Hysteria (Graphic Freud) by Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zárate***

Reading dates: 01–28 January 2016

This is a delightful graphic novel which, although necessarily simplifying the many facets of hysteria according to Freud, is also able to give a glimpse of its complexity and its problems. I liked the focus on cases, the historical narrative intermingled with ghosts from the past and the future. It is beautifully written and drawn, literary but, as ever with hysteria, also romanticised. This is especially evident in the choice of giving the ghost of Princess Diana a voice and I wonder if more could have been done with it and with Freud’s own hysteria. My main problem with it is the glaring omission of Dora, one of Freud’s most important patients and his Irene Adler. I suspect this might be because she gets a book of her own, eventually. Even with this thought, she should be at least alluded to in this work. Drawn or mentioned, pointed at. But, of course, this is a graphic novel about Freud, and not hysteria, isn’t it? The process, the method, the research get the time and space.

Don’t Say Anything

Don’t Say Anything, a durational performance piece as part of the exhibition ‘This House has been Far Out at Sea’, Laurieston Arches, Glasgow. 2-4 May 2015, 12–6 with a late night on Sunday.

I will return to Frau Emmy von N. the words Sigmund Freud wrote in his famous case history about her. She will tell you her story of hysteria in the first person, just as Emmy would have told it to Freud in 1889.

As part of Glasgow Open House Festival.

Reading Hysteria review

Wimbledon blog posted a lovely review of our performance last week:

I want to thank everyone at Wimbledon (Clare Mitten, Peter Farley, Anna, Richard and Mette) for making the day go smoothly, bearing with us and our pernickety approach to lighting and being so attentive to our outpour of words. Your generous feedback will make us revisit this text again, fold it for the fourth time and show it to you.

[…] This was followed by a performance lecture ‘Reading Hysteria, Between Laughter and Crying’ by Eleanor Bowen & Laura Gonzalez, incorporating performed text and projections. The work explored the condition of “hysteria” both historically and in relation to the image and performativity, reading and writing. The performance culminated in Bowen and Gonzalez re-enacting Ulay and Abramovich’s AAA AAA (1978) to a screening of Sam Taylor Wood’s film Hysteria (1997). […]


Eleanor and I will be presenting our performance lecture ‘Reading Hysteria Between Laughter and Crying’ at Acts Re-Acts on Wednesday 19 March at 3pm. We will be sharing our time with the fascinating Mette Sterre, showing STRUCTUREALIST (2pm) and the wonderful and elegant Richard Layzell (of Glory fame) who will be presenting SWITCH (4pm).

Bowen & Gonzalez present a collaborative performed text, accompanied by projected images and film. The piece explores the relationship between writing and reading, and the role of the image and performativity in relation to the condition known as hysteria.

See here for the full ACTS RE-ACTS event timetable and work abstracts

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus *****

Reading dates: 22 December 2013 – 04 February 2014

After reading my Loitering with Intent review, N— took his comfort book, Martin Amis’ The War Against Cliche and read me a paragraph from the introduction. The text acknowledged a change in literary criticism with the advent of the internet. We have all become critics and our criticism is solely related to our orientation to the book, to whether it works for us or not. But Amis thinks that this is not criticism, for something is lost: the book itself, and its relation to the canon. Fair point Amis, but what if the canon is wrong, or, perhaps, tendentious?

This idea of rules and reference points, and a right way of doing things, is what is broken in Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick. I have never read a book like this one. Yet, it is not totally groundbreaking. If Amis wants me to refer to a canon I will tell you that the genre and style borrows from epistolary literature, especially Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which I studied for my PhD. Kraus, however (and like Sophie Calle but better), plays with fact and fiction, with memoir and novel. Since when has a woman written a libertine novel, which is also a theoretical fiction? Hats off to Kraus, especially as she does so beautifully. The prose is light when it needs to (the letters) and intricate too. There are three pieces within the book that return to my memory: one of Hannah Wilke and her struggle to be an artist when Claes Oldenburg decides and succeeds in erasing part of her life (Dick tried to do the same); one on two paintings by Kitaj and a sublime section on schizophrenia, just before one of the most heart-wrenching endings I have ever read. I wish Dick had killed Chris. That would have been more bearable than what really happens in the book.

The book is here and it is actually quite lovely

Heroines by Kate Zambreno *****

Reading dates: 19 November – 31 December 2013

When reviewing The Bat, I urged you to stick to your reading list, lest you should encounter novels like this and waste your time. With Heroines, I am going to contradict myself. It is everything one would hope from venturing outside of the confines of a reading list created at a time removed from the reading experience. In November, I joined a reading group called ‘Sick, Sick, Sick: The Books of Ornery Women‘ and this was the first text to discuss. What a find too. it is energetic, sensitive, angry and its topic is hysteric women. It is a sad book. Zambreno discusses the wives of famous writers: T.S. Eliot – eerily named Thomas Eliot, the man, rather than the poet – Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Bowles and others. The wives who give themselves up as writers to take on their caring, companion roles, the support. Yet, the writing struggles within them as it often does. It comes out as something [hysterical] recognised as an illness. They are interned in sanatoriums; they die. Meanwhile, the husbands get to own the papers and diaries of their wives and convert them into characters (see ‘Tender is the Night’). Hamlet the Existentialist versus Ophelia the Hysteric. Yes, they both die, but in what different ways. What is also interesting is Zambreno’s own writing, her involvement in the stories of these wives. She is obsessed – all the signs are there, including the breakdowns – and there is nothing wrong with it.

This is an important book to read, re-read and to remember. Even to study. Important because it is a coming into consciousness book for a woman and a writer. Hysterics, Kate Zambreno tells us, were photographed but could not photograph. This is her as Francesca Woodman, able to tell her own story. The Freud Museum has a show with works from these wives, these writers that were denied their work: Zelda Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Anna Kavan. I have just expanded by reading list for 2014.

© Jane Fradgley with kind permission of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity (and the Freud Museum website)

Beyond these Walls

Our ebook chapter, from last year’s Madness conference, has been published! With authors from our forthcoming hard copy book and many, many more. You can download it here.


Listen closely. Can you hear the echoes of their cries resounding in the night, or is it the shrieks of the condemning? Perhaps it is the outrage of the masses at such weakness, or is their fear? Madness: a diagnosis, a label, a construction of power, and, for some, a life sentence of isolation. The product of an interdisciplinary exchange spanning four days, this volume is a collection of those voices joined in dialogue who dare to consider the questions of madness. Come, join us as we explore, consider, and probe the boundaries of madness.

The visual

Images… I need images … I am drowning in text!


Mass hysteria

Mania, frenzy, hysteria … Grades on a scale, or different things altogether?

Beatlemania was a term used during the 1960s to describe the intense fan frenzy particularly demonstrated by young teen girls directed toward The Beatles during the early years of their success. The word is a portmanteau of “Beatles” and “mania”. Andi Lothian, a former Scottish music promoter, claims that he coined the term while speaking to a reporter at the Caird Hall Beatles concert that took place as part of the Beatles Mini-Tour of Scotland, on 7th October 1963, and an early printed use of the word is in The Daily Mirror 2 November 1963 in a news story about the previous day’s Beatles concert in Cheltenham. Many fans across the world were known to have Beatlemania, which became common in the United States after The Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. ‘Beatlemania’ was characterised by intense levels of hysteria demonstrated by fans both at the actual concerts played by the band and during the band’s arrivals and travels to and from locations.

Closed for Christmas

I hope you all have the happiest of times this Christmas and New Year whatever you do. I am off to Spain for a while, and then back to Scotland to be the host of a modest, yet artistic, New Year’s party before joining the Ruth Mills Winter Intensive straight after the festivities. As she writes: ‘start as you mean to continue’ and that is what I wish for you all too. I will try to live up to holiday hysteria, finish writing this chapter of mine and dance maniacally whenever I can surrounded by inspiring people, which is how I mean to continue my year. See you in 2013, if not before.


Image: Bergdorf Goodman’s ‘BG Follies of 2012’, Act I.

Berggasse 19

Papa Freud's hat and cane
Berggasse, 19
Papa Freud’s hat and cane
Ueber Cocain
Custom chair design for strange reading postures
The famous mirror
Consulting room and study
Hysteria above couch
Papa’s handwriting
Condensation and displacement in the dream-work, by Joseph Kosuth
Freud est mort
L’esprit d’escalier

Readings on hysteria

So E and I are writing our conference paper as a chapter for a book provisionally entitled ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, which will be published sometime in 2013. Apart from writing a chapter, I will be editing the book with Frances Davies. One of our authors wrote to wish us luck, explaining that his experience of editing almost killed him … I guess this is my apology in case my posts get educed to quotes and pictures again …

So E and I are writing our conference paper as a chapter for a book provisionally entitled ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, which will be published sometime in 2013. Apart from writing a chapter, I will be editing the book with Frances Davies. One of our authors wrote to wish us luck, explaining that his experience of editing almost killed him … I guess this is my apology in case my posts get educed to quotes and pictures again …

As a resource, I wanted to share here my provisional bibliography of hysteria in case anyone wants to delve into the topic. Working through it is phenomenally interesting, as it shows how the topic is controversial, still. Will add to the list, report on specific passages and the experience of editing, and in due course, inform you whether I have survived the task.

A conference delegate’s guide to Oxford

So, writing with E worked, and performing with her at the Madness conference did so even better. You cannot see or hear us from where you are, but you can access our text. Soon, it will appear in the conference ebook publication. Also soon, we will be expanding on this work for a hard copy book on madness, women and the power of art.

Now you see why I have not been here as often as I wanted to. There are other reasons too, all marvellous and which will become clear in the next few weeks. But this entry is about the magical time we had in Oxford.

View from my Mansfield College room

Merton College Library

I do love Glasgow, more than I have loved any other city I have lived in, in the UK. But Oxford comes second (yes, before London, Sheffield, and Manchester). It’s the bikes, the quadrangles, the satchels and the elbow patches. All perfectly preserved. E took me on a night tour of Merton College, where we blagged out way with the security people to have a wander around what looked like Brideshead Revisited’s set. Before that, we had checked in our Mansfield College rooms – basic but on campus – attended the first sessions of the conference – brains already working, making connections – and met some lovely people at the wine reception. I found a likeminded Canadian lady who, like me, brought and shared nuts everywhere; I met a friend from the Sensuous Object workshop. If that was not enough for a wonderful weekend, the day after the conference got even better: depression, self harm, autism, multiple personality … Madness is my thing, that’s clear. We also discovered that, round the corner at the Oxford Playhouse, there was a play called ‘Hysteria’ being shown. We passed word around a few of the delegates decided to do homework prior to our paper and see the show. Beforehand, we went for dinner at Byron and ate the best burger I have ever had. Afterwards, I went for a drink to a quaint little pub and had wonderful conversations about Papa Freud. What are the odds of everything being so perfect? Even the play – featuring Freud and Dalí – was good.

Our paper was well received and we were placed in very appropriate panels (that doesn’t always happen, I have to say) where the connections were easy to make and the discussions fruitful. I chaired a session in the afternoon. The sun came out. It had been freezing till then so, for a change, the conference leader suggested we go outside to the lawn.

E and I have a common student living in Oxford. We arranged to see her at the end of the conference. Sadly, we had to turn down invitations for dinner with delegates – shame as everyone was so interesting – but it was worth it, for H and her husband W were the perfect hosts: kind, proud of where they live and very generous. We met at the Randolph Hotel, significant in relation to Inspector Morse, went to have a drink somewhere where Tolkien and C S Lewis occasionally met (I think it was called the King’s Arms) and had dinner at Browns. I recommend every one of these places.

Not all conferences are like this one, not all weekends are so wonderful. Yet, the best part of it was to be able to spend time with my dear friend E, listen to her, work with her, and plan more time for each other. Watch this space: we have ideas to show hysterics are certainly not mad.

Writing with

I have begun a collaborative writing practice with an artist whom I consider a dear friend. I am engaged in long term letter writing with two people who were unknown to me when we began the process but now are as much part of me as childhood friends. But writing with E— is different. It is different because we are going to make it public in September, as part of the Making sense of madness conference. Yet, writing with E— is also similar to writing with (and I mean with, not to) L— and P—. Perhaps it is the intimacy we have created and the sense that what we are doing is not work, but fun. I have dropped everything – things I should probably not have dropped – to write my 300 word responses to her part of the cadavre exquis we are creating. P— and L— and I (not the three together, but in individual duets) have discussed the timing of our responses. I also wanted to drop everything to respond to them, but somehow I felt that would be disrespectful of their letter, as if I had not read it with enough care. But E– and I have the excuse of a deadline.

I worked in this way in the past, with S—. What we did was misunderstood but, I am pleased to say, remembered. I met someone recently, who should have known me from a particular place and a few friends in common but who instead remembered me in the context of reading the work with S. He was very taken by it and I could feel the experience had made a mark on him. Of course, seeing two people engage in dialogue, rather than academic discourse for the sake of it, is a lot more compelling.

With E, I have no idea where the paper is going – as I am ignorant of where L— and I, and P— and I are headed with our words, in the same way as my sessions with Dr Sh– were clouded in terms of a clear plan for my talking. What S— and I produced was open, in the way a performative event is open, stimulating thought more than position, unfinished, or, simply, stopped. We let time, and its constraints and contingencies be part of the paper. We offered ourselves implicitly to the writing and the speaking, asking our words (our works) what they wanted from us. And precisely this is what E– and I are writing about.

I want to thank S–, L–, P–, Dr Sh– and E–, for without them, without the reflective surface of their thoughts, my fun, engagement and, ultimately, love would not have been possible.

Egyptian medical papyrus


I am off to Egypt for two weeks to rest, relax and think. I wonder what the country will have in store for me …

According to some historians, an Egyptian medical papyrus dating from around 1990 bc — one of the oldest surviving documents known to medical history — records a series of curious behavioural disturbances in adult women. As the ancient Egyptians interpreted it, the cause of these abnormalities was the movement of the uterus, which they believed to be an autonomous, free-floating organism that could move upward from its normal pelvic position. Such a dislocation, they reasoned, applied pressure on the diaphragm and gave rise to bizarre physical and mental symptoms. Egyptian doctors developed an array of medications to entice the errant womb back down into its correct position. Foremost among these measures were the vulvar placement of aromatic substances to draw the womb downward, and swallowing foul-tasting substances to repel the uterus away from the upper parts.

From ‘Oxford Companion to the Body: hysteria’

A Dangerous Method

A Dangerous Method Poster

I want to start by writing that this is not exactly a film review of David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method but, rather, a collection of thoughts stemming from my viewings of the movie, my knowledge of the story it recounts – albeit from Freud’s perspective –, and my amateur interest in cinema. My thoughts are a little unconnected, piling up on my brain every time I hear the advert for the film, or watch the Film 4 programme on the its making, which seems to be aired every time I turn on the T.V. set.

Hysteria: Keira Knightly portrayed Sabina Spielrein better than I expected, but was what I saw on screen hysteria, or just a stroppy woman? The major symptoms of the film seemed to be difficulty articulating complex ideas, playing with food, difficulty sleeping, and not wanting to be handled by hospital staff. She was just being difficult, with a reason. The only truthful – and dare I say beautiful – symptom was her forced jaw, jutting forward and taking a life of its own. That’s what most hysteria is: being taken over by the body. And then there is the issue of the spanking. Apart from the fact that the film sides with me in my theory that hysteria and perversion are not that far in their manifestation and performative aspects, it does so without any explanation of one of the other, with a link that seems so natural when, structurally speaking they are in fact opposite. Tut, tut, tut.

Jung: Well, I was never going to like Jung, wasn’t I? Not even when played by Michael Fassbender. I admit his voice made me a little softer towards him, as I find his intonation warm, quivering, lovely. But the episode of the wood cracking and his premonitions – especially the last one about WWI – represent everything I dislike about his approach. Neil and I had a discussion about it. I understand Jung’s problem with the sexual aetiology of most psychological issues but the only alternative, the one Jung represents, is mysticism. Besides, the scene between Sabina and Jung, after the later visited Freud, explain is well. She says; ‘Of course, he would have been right in my case’. Jung responds that Freud would have been right in most cases, maybe even the majority. That is my experience too. Sexuality makes us more than religion and mysticism.

Freud’s voice: Viggo Mortensen’s beautiful cadence as Freud made the film for me. I found myself drifting in my second viewing, loving his ups and downs partly derived from his eternal cigar. I found most of the words in the film amusing, like I often find psychoanalytic speech, almost cult-like, obscure. I wonder how the rest of the audience managed. As Dany Nobus and Malcolm Quinn pointed out in their excellent book Knowing Nothing, Staying Stupid, the published field of psychoanalysis – in particular Lacanian, but also Freudian – is full of dictionaries that help the interested scholar to understand what is being said. Do have a look at the above link, if you want to know how to say ‘I am ill’, or ‘I want to go to the cinema’.

Dreams: Dream are terribly interesting to anyone studying psychoanalysis, of course they are. And the proper way to discuss them in therapy and the social setting is by recounting them, by sharing and analysing. But this is cinema! Did Cronenberg watch Buñuel, Hitchcock or Powell and Pressburger? The dreams Freud, Spielrein and Jung had were – or in the case of Freud, probably were, as he doesn’t say – rich with connections. Yet, the film made them boring. I feel a trick was missed by keeping the narrative linear, by not going into the thoughts of the characters and accessing only their words. Yes, I know the talking cure, as psychoanalysis is named, is about that, but a film is not therapy, nor it can pretend to be. I am not demanding to be entertained, either, but I think the medium could have given the story something medium-specific, rather than just an accurate (and rather boring) recording. More on this below.

Historical accuracy: The film is historically accurate and, quite understandably, cannot portray absolutely everything that went on between Jung and Freud between 1904 and 1913, the year of their break. Yet, I cannot help but think they have missed some important points – such as Freud’s hallucinations – and left some others just hanging, unexplained – Freud’s fainting at the editorial meeting, and his apprehension every time he boarded any mode of transport. In a way, I would say the film is too historically accurate, to the point of giving us a worded account of the fate of each character at the end of the film (I am sure this has a proper name in cinematography, but you know what I mean). Where is the Cronenberg of Crash, Dead Ringers and Scanners? And, more importantly, where is this dangerous method?

If you have read thus far, you will realise that – paraphrasing Nobus and Quinn, and following on in the tradition of speaking psychoanalese – my scopic drive did not find the objet petit a it was seeking in Cronenberg’s film.

Spaces to work hysteria

La Ribot’s wonderful work Llamame Mariachi, inspired me as to the technique I wanted to use for my work on hysteria.

She films movement from within, she dances with the camera and the effect is one of convulsion, but also joy.




So, since my PhD, I have changed the space I work in, from a crowded artist’s studio, with papers, notes, images, computers and sketchbooks to an empty dance space.


It is here that I rehearse the movements of hysteria, its body practice, like the famous arch of hysteria (remember La Grande Hysterique I wrote about a few weeks back), in which you may recognise the high arch prone of contemporary dance and which some of you may know in the guise of Louise Bourgeois’ sculpture. In hers, the hysteric is a man.




For hysteria is a body practice and, moreover, a choreography.

Look at Charcot’s movement classifications, from his attitudes passionelles (passionate attitudes, the seduction in hysteria), to the clownisme, epileptoide phase and delirium. All pervert (exhibitionist) phases too, I think.


Hysteria and photography


Richard Avedon, Martha Graham and the Martha Graham Dance Company, New York, 1961

A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he’s being photographed, and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he’s wearing or how he looks. He’s implicated in what’s happening, and he has a certain real power over the result. 

Richard Avedon

A depraved epistemology

Being embodied is a mixed fate for the hysteric, who does not want to be excluded by anyone from anything, and yet, given the shocking secrets of sexuality – revealed by the self’s won developing body knowledge experiences this body and what it knows as a depraved epistemology. This fact is a vital constituent in the format of the hysteric because in so many different ways – enervation in the nineteenth century, fatigue in the twentieth century – hysterics indicate trouble with the body. It imposes the unwanted, and the response to the body’s invasion of the self varies from irritated indifference to paranoid grudge.

Christopher Bollas, Hysteria, p. 19

Hysteria, Dora and perversion

Here is a little more of my current jumbled thinking on hysteria and perversion, influenced by what I have been reading.

Sharon Kivland’s work A Case of Hysteria is a feminine detective story telling of a dependence to Freud’s case history (which I also suffer from, and I have been trying to avoid speaking of Dora until now). In Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, published in 1905, Freud writes of his encounter with an 18 year-old patient whom he saw for only three months, after which she flew, abandoning treatment. Dora, whose real name is Ida Bauer has aphonia. She has lost her voice but there is no physical reason why this may be so.

The case is famous for two reasons: first, because he discovered the power of transference (the love relation between a patient and her doctor) and, second, because it was a failure. You can read about the case directly from Freud, or from Jed Rubenfeld, who, in the Interpretation of Murder, gave a rather trashy, B-series but very perversely enjoyable fictional account, which makes the links between Freud’s case histories and detective cases admirably.

Claire Pajaczkowska also revisited Freud’s most famous case in a film.


And then, there is perversion …

Kivland’s most recent work Le cri de la soie is also related to the nineteenth century, which, together with hysteria, saw the rise of female perversion, especially in relation to the touch of fabrics such as velvet, silk and velour and the consequent public display of pleasure that ensued. The materiality of the object was the conduit to the psychical manifestation of symptoms, and the result was their internment in psychiatric penitentiary units, accused of kleptomania. Gaétan Gatien De Clérambeau tells about these women in his work Passion érotique des étoffes pour la femme.

Are perverts so far away from hysterics? Freud and Lacan see them as opposites in their relation to questioning and fantasy. I guess this is something I will find out in my project, as it is my main concern. The performativity of hysteria, its exhibitionism is a pervert trait but that has not been addressed by analysts. Artists, as you can see, have had a go. Which is where I am heading.

Charcot and the Salpetrière

In the Nineteenth Century, Doctor Charcot worked at the Salpetrière in Paris, a hospital dedicated to treat hysteric women through hypnosis and other like treatments.

Charcot’s Tuesday lectures were very famous and well attended and Brouillet’s painting shows what was then named ‘La Grande Hysterique’ (believed to be a patient called Blanche Wittmann). Watch her and remember her, for something of her will return to my writing on this blog.


Freud had a print of this painting in his study in his house in London (now a museum). You can see it is placed above the couch.


These are some of the sources I have been exploring, especially the first book, Georges Didi-Huberman’s The Invention of Hysteria, around how Charcot used photography to enhance the performativity of the illness. For both doctor and patient performed for each other, believe me (and remember Brouillet).


I encountered these books during my study of seduction (my PhD), so I cannot say that this constitutes a new project. It is a tangential strand, a free association of some elements of my PhD.