Many Faces of Hysteria

From Michel Foucalt's "Madness and Civilization"

"...all qualities were contradictorily invoked, each annulling the others, leaving untouched the problem of what was the ultimate nature..."

"Often hysteria was perceived as the effect of an internal heat that spread throughout the entire body, an effervescence, an ebullition ceaselessly manifested in convulsions and spasms."

"Was this heat not related to the amorous ardor with which hysteria was so often linked, in girls looking for husbands and in young widows who had lost theirs?"

"Hysteria was ardent by nature; its symptoms referred more easily to an image than to an illness; that image was drawn by Jaques Ferrand..."

"...he declared that women were more often distracted by love than men...'if one looks beneath the alembic, and places one's hand upon a woman's heart, one will find in both places a fiery furnace.'..."

"Long after Ferrand, one finds the qualifying theme of humid heat used to characterize the secret distillations of hysteria..."

"Already in Nicholas Chesneau...'I say that the hysterical affection is not a simple one, but that we understand by this name several diseases caused by a malign vapor which arises in some way or other, is corrupted, and undergoes and extraordinary effervescence.'..."

"For others,... a 'hot, dry' illness, caused by 'humors of the like quality'..."

"But some perceived no heat... the quality peculiar to these maladies was on the contrary languor, inertia and a cold humidity...'I think that these affections... come from the fibers of the brain and the nerves when they are slack and therefore feeble'..."

"...according to Cheyne, the disease maintains its unity only in an abstract manner...All symptoms of spasm, cramp and convulsion derive from a pathology of heat symbolized by 'harmful, bitter or acrimonious vapors'..."

"On the contrary, all psychological or organic signs of weakness -'depression, syncopes, inactivity of the mind, lethargic torpor, melancholia and sadness'- manifest a condition of fibers which have become too humid or too weak, doubtless under the effect of cold, viscous, thick humours that obstruct the glands and vessels..."

"As for paralyses, they signify both a chilling and an immobilization of the fibers, 'an interruption of vibrations' frozen so to speak in the general inertia of solids."

"...Stahl opts instead for an increasing heaviness of the blood, which becomes so abundant and so thick that it is no longer capable of circulating regularly through the portal vein..."

"For Boerhaave, on the contrary,... hysterical movement is due to an excessive mobility of all the fluids, which become so volatile, so inconsistent, that they are agitated by the least movement..."

"It is to this sensibility, this mobility, that we must attribute the sufferings, the spasms, the singular pains so readily suffered by 'young girls of pale complexion, and individuals too much given to study and meditation.'..."

"...Ettmuller, on the contrary, considers that diseases of this kind belong to a chain of acid reactions, 'the immediate cause being the acid rawness of the stomach ... it no longer furnishes spirits..."

"Strange, the qualitative instability of these hysterical... illnesses; strange the confusion of their dynamic properties and the secret nature of their chemistry!"

"The progress of hysteria did not lead... through the world's obscure qualities reflected in a medical imagery. The space in which it assumed its dimensions was of another kind: that of the body, in the coherence of its organic values..."

"Liebault... still accepted...the idea of a spontaneous movement of the womb...'And so the womb, though it be so strictly attached...yet often changes position, and makes curious and so to speak petulant movements in the woman's body.'..."

"If corporeal space is perceived as a solid and continuous whole, the disordered movement of hysteria... could result only from an element whose extreme tenuousness and incessant mobility permitted it to penetrate into the place occupied by the solids themselves."