Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Five best books about hysteria

Asti Hustvedt is the author of Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris. An independent scholar who has written extensively on hysteria and literature, she has a Ph.D in French literature from New York University, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Phi Betta Kapa Fellowship. Hustvedt is the editor of The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy and Perversion from Fin-de-Siècle France and has published many translations. She lives in New York City.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books on hysteria. One title on the list:
Mad Men and Medusas
by Juliet Mitchell (2000)

Psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell asks in this book: Why does the medical community insist that hysteria no longer exists when she knows, "beyond a shadow of a doubt," that it does? She traces hysteria's disappearance as a medical diagnosis to the early part of the 20th century, when it was divided into smaller parts. Anorexia and multiple personality disorder, for example, were originally symptoms of hysteria but are now classified separately. She also shows how hysteria's identification as a female affliction ultimately contributed to its demise: When soldiers returned from the trenches of World War I suffering from hysterical paralyses, limps and nightmares, doctors hesitated to label these battle-scarred men hysterics, and thus the euphemism "shell shock" was born. Mitchell, however, argues that hysteria is inherent to the human condition. It may have been dismantled, renamed and discarded as a diagnosis, but to claim that it has disappeared is, she insists, as nonsensical as saying that love and hate have vanished.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue