THE BODY OF WORDS
Hysteria, with its four-thousand-year history, is the oldest and most widespread psychological disorder. More accurately, it comprises a set of psychosomatic phenomena considered a disorder in some cultures and assimilated in others in ritual practices of individuation/socialization. The definitions of hysteria change through its long history, as do its manifestations or “symptoms.” Although the symptoms are historically and culturally specific, certain syndromes recur, including amnesias, arrhythmic movements, eating disorders, and, most important for my purposes, body “language” and linguistic disturbances.
My question remains “Why is there lyric poetry?” and hysteria with its linguistic problems offers a different perspective on the social function of the formality of poetry. The hysterical body, a body that can be reconfigured by following rhetorical and linguistic procedures, is placed inside language, and my excursion into hysteria and a range of associated phenomena is intended to refocus on the articulation of the subject in language from the perspective offered by its disarticulation into the affectively charged, bodily produced materials of language. I necessarily draw on psychoanalytic literature on hysteria and Freud's work—which, of course, read the linguistic disorders of hysteria as symptomatic of psychosexual disturbances. But my essentially different argument is that hysterical procedures in fact confirm the priority of language in the formulation of the subject and the sexual body. In hysteria, the erotogenically inscripted body itself becomes a linguistic medium and “speaks” by following poetic procedures of figural and phonemic substitutions.
The sexual and the ego instincts are Freud's two “great instincts,” and he proposes that “pathological consequences” ensue when these two fundamental instincts are in conflict (1963, 54, 55). Hysteria is the particular pathological consequence of such a conflict in the oral zone. According to Freud, the erotogenic significance of the oral zone is intensified in hysteria and the libidinal impulses focus on the labial area (1975, 48). If repression ensues, the zone too intimate with the sexual instinct will “refuse itself” to the other great instinct, for “the more intimate the relation of an organ possessing … a duality of function with one of the great instincts, the more it will refuse itself to the other” (1963, 55). Thus the “common possession” of the labial zone by the sexual and alimentary functions, which accounts for the reason “sexual satisfac-