The nineteenth-century study of hysteria at the Salpêtrière hospital was a medical project, but also a theatrical one. The hysteric's public appearance was a continual ethical provocation, pointing not only to the vulnerability of her person but to the unstable position of her spectator. Hysteria in Performance sets out to uncover what kind of performance the hysterical attack is, as well as the nature of hysteria in and as performance as it occurred at Salpêtrière.
The Salpêtrière documents undeniably show the gravity of the institutional violence committed against its female patients. Using the lenses of performance studies and performance theory, Jenn Cole expresses the overt and subtle damages done to hysterical women in Jean-Martin Charcot's hospital, drawing attention to the hysteric's resistance to these experiences: it is often simply by being herself that the hysteric points to the inherent weaknesses in these systemic modes of violence. In Hysteria in Performance, the hysteric becomes a figure who represents possibilities for ethical encounters within performance and everyday living.
Revealing the fraught and exciting nature of theatrical representation, and continually drawing out the dilemmas and unexpected dynamics of witnessing the suffering of others, this groundbreaking study explores how Charcot's findings on hysteria produced a unique mixture of theatre and science that still has unexpected things to teach us.
Jenn Cole is assistant professor in gender and social justice studies at Trent University.