Hysteria has disappeared from contemporary culture only insofar as it has been subjected to a repression through the popular diagnosis of 'borderline personality disorder'.In Hysteria the distinguished psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas offers an original and illuminating theory of hysteria that weaves its well-known features - repressed sexual ideas; indifference to conversion; over-identification with the other - into the hysteric form.Through a rereading of Freud, Bollas argues that sexuality in itself is traumatic to all children, as it 'destroys' the relation to the mother, transfiguring her from 'mamma', the infant's caregiver, to 'mother', the child's and father's sex object. For the hysteric this recognition is endlessly traumatic and the hysterical personality forms itself into an organised opposition to this knowledge.True to his earlier writings, Bollas' vision is thought provoking and mind expanding. Hysteria brings new perspectives to long-standing ideas, making enlightening reading for students and professionals involved in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy alike, as well as the lay reader who takes an interest in the formation of personality in western culture.


His body imposes upon him a logic he detests. He replaces the body driven by its biology with an imaginary one symbolising his distress by enervating parts of it whilst showing little interest in its plight. He will be indifferent to it. Its sexuality seems divisive to him and, although he represses sexual ideas, paradoxically he finds they become rather powerful nuclei of the banished which continuously strive to return to consciousness. He will often dissociate himself from such returns, appearing cold and ascetic. Or he may do the opposite, becoming a kind of ringmaster to his internal world, exhibiting sexual ideas in his own ongoing theatre. Between these extremes he is lost in his own world of daydreams, where, amongst other possibilities, he can remain a perpetual innocent, living as a child inside the adult body. He can transmit his state of mind in adept ways, so much so that others of like temperament can identify with his plight. He could find himself in a community of kindred beings, all transmitting symptoms back and forth over their own psychic Internet.

He is an hysteric.

Any essay on hysteria is obliged to address its famous traits. When we think of hysteria we think of people who are troubled by their body's sexual demands and repress sexual ideas; who are indifferent to conversion; who are overidentified with the other; who express themselves in a theatrical manner; who daydream existence rather than engage it; and who prefer the illusion of childlike innocence to the worldliness of the adult. They also suffer from suggestion, either easily influenced by the other or in turn passing on ideas to fellow hysterics. Although others in the village of character disorders share one or more of the above traits, only the hysteric brings them together into a single dynamic form.

One task I have set myself is to provide a theory which weaves these traits into the hysteric form.

Theories of hysteria have tended to privilege certain perspectives at the expense of others, as if theories were small armies engaged in a war with one another. If one finds a biological contribution to the hysteric's interpretation of his or her plight-such as the hysteric's disenchantment with bio-logic's imposition of stage of sexual excitation-does this mean that the explanation rests on biology? If one addresses the hysteric's relation to the 'primary object'-initially, always

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