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Invention of Hysteria


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Didi-Huberman composes an absolutely fascinating story about the emergence of modern subjectivity from the netherworld and darkrooms of nineteenth-century medicine. This gorgeously written and provocative landmark study is indispensable for anyone interested in questions of gender, the history of science, photography, and medicine: in short, in how we see ourselves as who we are. -- Ulrich Baer, Department of German, New York University, author of Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma Georges Didi-Huberman's Invention of Hysteria is an almost legendary text, so influential has it been on cultural criticism, and this even before its very welcome translation into English. Writing in a style that is at once literary and philosophical, Didi-Huberman brilliantly demonstrates how a study of hysteria in the nineteenth century continues to have profound relevance for anyone interested in questions of culture and its embodimentthat is, questions concerning the workings of power. The author's erudite combination of visual and textual research and provocative analysis has produced a book that will be equally crucial to scholars of medicine, feminism, psychoanalysis, literature, photography, art history, the body, or postmodern theory, to name only a few of the fields it touches on. But it's also simply a great read, an artful rendition of history that reminds us of the extent to which the 'weird science' of the nineteenth century still haunts our thinking to this day. -- Geoffrey Batchen, Professor of Art History, City University of New York Graduate Center The invention and dissemination of photography, it has often been noted, contributed to what has been called the modern 'frenzy of the visible.' In this remarkable study of Charcot's clinic Salp'tri're and its iconography of madness, Georges Didi-Huberman demonstrates that it led as well to the heightened visibility of frenzy. The camera, he brilliantly shows, documentedor, better put, solicited the theatricalized spectacle of hysterical symptoms suffered by women at the dawn of the psychoanalytic age. -- Martin Jay, Sidney Hellman Ehrman Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley Van Gogh and hysteria? Proust and catalepsy! Sigmund Freud and theater? Charcot's influence is suddenly registering everywhere, not only in studies of fin-de-siecle medicine and psychology, but also in aesthetics, philosophy, and photographic history. Charcot figures in reexaminations of the "new psychologies" of the 1890s, the birth of Freudian psychology, male and female hysteria, the designs of art nouveau lamp posts, art manifestos of the Symbolists, the novels of Huysmans and Proust, the landscapes of Van Gogh and Gauguin, and the history of flash photography. No wonder. The images of his patients at the infamous Salpetriere hospital in Paris strike a thoroughly contemporary and postmodern chord, one that is brilliantly brought to life in this remarkable book by Georges Didi-Huberman. -- Robert Sobieszek, Curator of Photography, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

About the Author

Georges Didi-Huberman, a philosopher and art historian based in Paris, teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Recipient of the 2015 Adorno Prize, he is the author of more than fifty books on the history and theory of images, including Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpetriere (MIT Press), Bark (MIT Press), Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, and The Surviving Image: Phantoms of Time and Time of Phantoms: Aby Warburg's History of Art.


"This poetic account of the relationship between photography and madness will interest any student of art or mental health, for seldom have these fields been so definitively intertwined." - Publishers Weekly

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