The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

The work of Dr Jean-Martin Charcot and the Salpêtrière school of neuropathology is increasing acknowledged as having operated at the intersection of various medical and aesthetic discourses (anatomy, neurology, physiology, photography, painting, beaux arts, literature and the novel).  From the time of Charcot's first presentations in the 1870s, his lectures were frequently described as "theatrical." The full implication of what this classification meant, though, has not been explored.  Although hysterics were popular novelistic and dramatic subjects throughout the fin de siècle period, hysterical theatricalism involved more than the adherence to a series of implicitly literary characterological tropes and psychological states.  It referred to a fully embodied performative, medical condition; a three-dimensional, temporal manifestation of excess and chaotic superfluity. Hysteria was, in this sense, a pathological dance; a choreography of identifiable poses, forms of execution, dramaturgical meanings, and sequential arrangements.  Sexuality remained embedded within the hysterical performer's actions, even as Charcot and his peers sought to reduce such gestures to the sexually indifferent products of nervous tissue and musculature. Charcot's own approach to hysteria constituted in this sense a theatrical critique in which an alternative model of the theatre was offered. Charcot and his peers sought to medicalise, contain, and, ideally, ban outright the Dionysian excess inherent within hysterical performativity. Healthy, therapeutic performance was, by contrast, uncomplicated, rhythmic and Apollonian. Charcot's presentation and analysis of the living, moving body brought his work within the sphere of theatre and performance. While this afforded Charcot great descriptive power, it also enabled hysteria to act as an oppositional element within the frame of theatrical science, undermining medical practice, and so rendering the Salpêtrière school's incitement to performance as a critical weakness within the school's discourse.

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