Genealogies of trauma : the inheritance of hysteria
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis explores the ways that sexual violence becomes perceptible through the body. While we are often unable to assimilate trauma into language, we maintain other corporeal systems in which to understand, respond to, and discern it. Looking backwards at historical representations of hysteria opens up new languages, metaphors, and systems of thought when we take seriously the gestures of hysteria as corporeal responses and adaptions to the experience of sexual violence. The excess of performances of hysteria,the coughing, screaming, quaking, and crying, become a means to archive and make visible a violence thought of as unspeakable. The first two chapters of this thesis focus on historical representations of hysteria through the photographs of Louise Augustine Gleizes of the Salpêtrière Hospital, and Ida Bauer, the women behind Sigmund Freud’s Dora. The gestures and ‘symptoms’ of their hysteria are read alongside their experiences of sexual violence. This reading takes seriously the effects of hysteria as a source of embodied knowledge regarding how the body responds to sexual trauma. The third chapter brings this hysterical understanding of the body into the contemporary work of the queer writer, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, who makes use of the hysterical body both to make visible unacknowledged sexual violence and trauma, and as a modality for seeing and connecting with other queer survivors of trauma. The repertoire of hysterical gestures becomes an avenue for queer people, gender variant people, and survivors of sexual violence to articulate and express both desire and pain in ways that do not present recovery from trauma as an endpoint or static moment to be achieved, nor as a precursor to fulfilling physical and sexual intimacy. The performativity of queer hysteria makes itself visible on bodies through stylization, adornment, and biological and physical gesture. These corporeal gesticulations are created and perceived through and in relation to one’s own experience of trauma. Queerness appears not as a utopian solution to and trauma, but a means to use these experiences with a difference.