Much as “the woman question” preoccupied social and political theorists of the late nineteenth century when the emancipation of women and the feminine in general was identified as a threat to bourgeois stability, “the question of woman” has become a motif in the discourse of postmodernism. The question has returned like a glitch in the record, causing a “repeat” in the discursive practice. The “repeat” centers around the discussion of hysteria which has returned, not as the subject of a medical discourse, but, appropriately for postmodernism, as a question of representation. Hysteria, an invisible pathology which gained “presence” through the work of Charcot, has now become a simulacrum. Fashion models, dressed in Comme Des Garçons clothing which provides for atrophied appendages, adopt Charcot’s attitudes passionelles. Anorexia, bulimia, and cosmetic body cutting have lent new meaning to the term “fashion victim.” Tina Turner, with disheveled hair and shredded clothing, goes through all the unmotivated gyrations of the grande attaque hystérique—posing the question “what’s love got to do with it?”
Women who do exist have been disturbing the position ofwoman who does not, provoking Lacan to return to the question of woman in his 1972-73 seminar appropriately entitled Encore: “There is no woman but excluded by the nature of things which is the nature of words, and it has to be said that there is one thing about which women themselves are complaining at the moment, it’s well and truly that, it’s just that they do not know what they are saying which is all the difference between them and me” (1972-73:68). Psychoanalysis may not always be sensitive to Foucault’s lesson of the indignity of speaking for others, but the Other has spoken through, has intervened in the theoretical construction psychoanalysis elaborates to contextualize her and has made political claims and demands for social transformation. This chapter is a retelling of the story which intends to foreground what was overlooked—history, the social relations of production and exchange between classes and sexes; that is, the knowledge produced by the hysteric who, as Lacan puts it, “forces the ‘signifying matter’ to confess” (1975:38).