Hysteria is a language. One we don’t understand, but a language, non-the less. It takes its form as a chapter in the history of art, and not medicine. The reason for this shall be clear once we’ve started to read it’s meanings; the meanings that it creates through images and signs; the meanings not that we create, but the meanings that create us.
To claim that hysteria is a language, can be based on a number of variables, many of which stand to be questioned and verified. Freud, as did many others, saw hysteria through psychoanalytical eyes that placed hysteria among the vast river of neuroses that exist in our unconscious. According to Freud, the unconscious functions as a language. It is made of a million chains of signifiers that migrate and explode to create meaning, to create us. So is it not logical to say that hysteria too, functions as a language and through specific chains of signifiers. What about the many images of hysteria that we are left with today? The images left behind by Dr. Charcot and his famous, if not infamous clinic of “mad” women. They too speak to us, a language that we are familiar with today, but yet still remains a mystery; the language of the image. We are bombarded with images everyday, but how do we see these images?
We look at these images to see representations, representations of the “real” world, of the world to which we belong to, and the world in which we understand and perceive everything to be true. Images of the Visible.
But what if we were to look at images, not as just as representations of the world that we know, but manifestations of a world that we do not know. What if these images spoke a language that we have yet to understand by simply listening to what the image is saying. Images of the Invisible.
It is through this reading of the images of hysteria that we might be able to cross over into a place unfamiliar to us, a place where hysteria is the real, where hysteria is understood. Through finding these signifiers and understanding the associations that they form, can help us travel along the different chains of signifiers. Then we might be able to communicate with an image. Not only understanding what we see, but also understanding what the image itself is saying. And through studying images of hysteria in this way, then we will be able to understand what hysteria is saying.