Hysterical Wandering Wombs

hys·ter·ic (h-strk)
A person suffering from hysteria.
2. hysterics
(used with a sing. or pl. verb)
A fit of uncontrollable laughing or crying.
An attack of hysteria.


[From Latin hystericus, hysterical, from Greek husterikos, from huster, womb (from the former idea that disturbances in the womb caused hysteria).]

The wandering sickly womb placed in text by Plato in Timaeus, is named hysteria[2]. The female womb as a disembodied organ, woman defined as opposite of soul, creating nature, disordering culture . She is nothing until form is she is nothing before infused with sperm as form, creating Woman as pregnant matter.[3] This division of form/matter severs Woman from her body and writing, as Cixous writes “It is time to for woman to mark her cuts in written and oral language”[4]. Hippocratic medicine cured hysteria with intercourse[5], and catharsis, alluded to in Aristotle’s Poetics, a performance in Greek Tragedy in which an actor restores harmony to the social order through mirroring pain for his audience.[6] The hysterically disembodied Woman as Wandering Womb brings to light the impossibilities of Woman as a hyper-hysteric strategy to make visible the wounds of her inscriptions.

Clement shows how guilt “fixes reproduction on the ill female organs”, with punishment of death by fire[7]. Hysteric is the culmination of sorceress and witch; we should not forget the murder of 60,000 witches in the 14th-15th century as one example.[8] Unknown ancient guilt shows up as Plato promised in Phaedrus, no longer delivered from God, now internalized in the unconscious[9]. Hysterical performances symbolize the original female guilt, a confessional of hysteric and spectator. Demon expelled through embodiment of Eros, so Woman can hide again.

Derrida points to what is produced through the exclusion of form/matter, it is Woman’s excess, the erotic.[10] Women’s sick wandering wombs are done transmuting forms at the price of invention of self, through speech, or writing. This deposit of Excessive Woman is where Irigay mimes phallgocentricsm, we take exclusion as our own, not hiding, silent, reproducers of hysterical guilt but as laughing innocence[11].

Biesecker argues for a rhetoric that “by moving through the body in order to steal back the unconscious as a site of plentitude and, hence source of speech, and of writing, women can unfix the sign “woman” and make it fly”. [12]The medium for such a gesture belongs in hypertext whose form has been “characterized as essentially feminine…as a means of moving beyond the linear logic of Oedipal hierarchy and transcendence. The language of the fragmented body exists on the margins of the social body as the limit of pleasure, ‘without any fixed term” to locate it’” Johnson’s cyber novel does this future of rhetoric in which Woman flys/steals- inside/outside- form/matter - riding internet wayvves.[13]

[1] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hysteria

[2] Ibid

[3] Plato. Timaeus. 91c Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plat.+Tim.+91c

[4] Biesecker, Barbara. Towards a Transactional View of Rhetorical and Feminist Theory: Rereading Helene Cixous’s The Laugh of The Medusa 1992 p. 90

[5] R. Satow, "Where Has All the Hysteria Gone?" Psychoanalytic Review 66 (1979/80): 463-477 (quotation, pp. 463-464).

[7] Clement, Catherine and Cixous, Helene. The Newly Born Woman. Theory and History of Literature, Volume 24 1975 reprinted 1996 p. 6

[8] Levack, Brian. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. Longman; Second edition (April 14, 1995)

[9] Plato. Phaedrus Translated by W.C. Hembold and W.B. Rabinowitz 236-245

[10] Derrida, Jaques, Positions, Alan Bass, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1978)

[11] Irigaray, Luce “Plato’s Hysters” Speculum of the Other Woman 1 985

[12] Biesecker Ibid p. 48

[13] Johnson, Holly. Shelly Jackson’s Patchwork Girl: Hysteria, Hypertext and the Ethics of the Fragmented Body. Modified Saturday, May 13, 2006 6:38:27 PM, accessed April 2nd, 2008. www.darevirginia.com/patchwork/index.html

1 comment:

Kevin Keatley said...

The separation of form and matter was interesting. In some respects there are certain feminists that also take this perspective. I would assume the “cure” for hysteria being intercourse is grounded in biblical terms. Since intercourse is the way to sustain life instead of letting it end. Having female guilt being symbolized through hysterical performances is troubling as I assume this also has the biblical tie to Eve tempting Adam with the fruit. In the end part of America’s subjugation of women is the result of selective and incorrect metaphorical interpretations of the Bible.