Telling Tales: The Hysteric's Seduction in Fiction and Theory

By Katherine Cummings | Go to book overview
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Interlude:
"Between the Acts"

Sometimes I have a dream of the feminist literary conference of the future. The demonic woman rises to speak, but she mutates before our eyes into a mermaid, a vampire, a column of fire. The diacritical woman rises to speak but she has no head. Holding out the empty sleeves of her fashionable jacket, she beckons to the third panelist. He rises swiftly and commands the podium. He is forceful; he is articulate; he is talking about Heidegger or Derrida or Lévi-Strauss or Brecht. He is wearing a dress.

Elaine Showalter,
"Critical Cross-Dressing"

Four women: two sisters, one mother, and one daughter. Three of the four are clinically paranoid; one is widely pronounced hysterical. And yet a single disposition makes them common: all are equally perverse. They act up, these madwomen, and act upon their desire; moreover, they also seduce--for the most part as signs or representations and with the most consequence an audience of men.

Not surprisingly, then, all of the women I am remembering circulate. Clarissa Harlowe is exchanged most immediately as a daughter among "fathers" within a fiction; whereas the Papin sisters, Christine and Léa, along with a mother, who is known simply as Aimée, once acted dramatically upon real subjects. In consequence of their (un)successful attempts to murder, the three French women became property of the public, before whom their bodies were displayed as spectacles and their crimes as spectacular communal events.

In naming the Papin sisters and Aimée, I introduce three of Jacques Lacan's leading ladies and two of his earliest cases. These madwomen and their therapist restage Freud's original scenes of seduc

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