Hystories hysterical epidemics and modern culture

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hystories hysterical epidemics and modern culture

Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media by Elaine Showalter

This provocative and illuminating book charts the persistence of a cultural phenomenon. Tales of alien abduction, chronic fatigue syndrome, Gulf War syndrome, and the resurgence of repressed memories in psychotherapy are just a few of the signs that we live in an age of hysterical epidemics.

As Elaine Showalter demonstrates, the triumphs of the therapeutic society have not been able to prevent the appearance of hysterical disorders, imaginary illnesses, rumor panics, and pseudomemories that mark the end of the millenium.

Like the witch-hunts of the 1690s and the hypnotic cures of the 1980s, the hysterical syndromes of the 1990s reflect the fears and anxieties of a culture on the edge of change. Showalter highlights the full range of contemporary syndromes and draws connections to earlier times and settings, showing that hysterias mutate and are renamed; under the right circumstances, everyone is susceptible.

Today, hysterical epidemics are not spread by viruses or vapors but by stories, narratives Showalter calls hystories that are created in the interaction of troubled patients and sympathetic therapists... circulated through self-help books, articles in newspapers and magazines, TV talk shows, popular films, the Internet, even literary criticism. Though popular stereotypes of hysteria are still stigmatizing, largely because of their associations with women, many of the most recent manifestations receive respectful and widespread coverage. In an age skeptical of Freud and the power of unconscious desires and conflicts, personal troubles are blamed on everything from devil-worshipping sadists to conspiring governments. The result is the potential for paranoia and ignorance on a massive scale.

Skillfully surveying the condition of hysteria--its causes, cures, famous patients, and doctors--in the twentieth century, Showalter also looks at literature, drama, and feminist representations of the hysterical. Hysterias, she shows, are always with us, a kind of collective coping mechanism for changing times; all that differs are names and labels, and at times of crisis, individual hysterias can become contagious.

Insightful and sensitive, filled with fascinating new perspectives on a culture saturated with syndromes of every sort, Hystories is a gift of good sense from one of our best critics.
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Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media

By Elaine Showalter. New York: Columbia University Press, Most users should sign in with their email address. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in. To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. Don't already have an Oxford Academic account?

Genre: Treatise. Showalter identifies clusters of syndromes, or mini-epidemics, which she suggests represent late-twentieth century manifestations of the entity which was called hysteria in nineteenth century western culture. Opening with the history of psychiatry's involvement in hysteria in the time of Charcot and Freud, she traces the replacement of hysteria or conversion reaction by modern hysterical analogues such as: chronic fatigue syndrome, recovered memory, Gulf War syndrome, multiple personality syndrome, satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction. In separate chapters she examines each of these entities--how it presents, how it fits into her theory of mass hysteria as a cultural response to the millennium, and how it is being handled by health care professionals. Showalter contends that "Redefining hysteria as a universal human response to emotional conflict is a better course than evading, denying, or projecting its realities. She seems to be appealing to the health care system to reconsider its tendency to label unexplained symptoms as disease and instead to find ways to confront the cultural paranoia from which she feels these symptoms spring.

Jack Kevorkian. In Yorkshire, a young Gulf War veteran struggles with a mysterious illness that has destroyed his marriage and his career. In California, an executive is disgraced after his daughter, who has been treated by her therapist with the hypnotic drug sodium amytal, says he abused her when she was a child; the court later awards him half a million dollars' damages. In Massachusetts, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard professor claims that little gray aliens are visiting the United States and performing sexual experiments on thousands of Americans. In Oklahoma, accused bomber Timothy McVeigh tells his lawyers that the government planted a surveillance microchip in his buttocks during the Gulf War.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Stephan S. says:

    About the Author

  2. Belisarda G. says:

    This provocative and illuminating book charts the persistence of a cultural phenomenon. are just a few of the signs that we live in an age of hysterical epidemics. . much of it fell under a modern version of what used to be called " hysteria.

  3. Michael G. says:

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  4. Segundino L. says:

    This provocative and illuminating book charts the persistence of a cultural phenomenon.

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