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REVIEW ARTICLE SEDUCTION IN PSYCHOANALYSIS AND PSYCHIATRIC HISTORY Katherine Cummings. Telling Tales: The Hysteric's Seduction in Fiction and Theory. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1991. viii + 298. $32.50 US (cloth). Jean-Martin Charcot. Clinical Lectures on the Diseases of the Nervous System. Ed. and intro. Ruth Harris. Tavistock Classics in the History of Psychiatry. London and New York: Tavistock/Routledge, 1991. lxviii + 438. $81.00 CDN (cloth). Andrew Scull. Ed. and intro. The Asylum as Utopia: W. A. F. Browne and the Mid-Nineteenth Century Consolidation ofPsychiatry. Tavistock Classics in the History of Psychiatry. London and New York: Tavistock/Routledge, 1991. Ixxvii + 240. $81.00 CDN (cloth). A course of public lectures on lunacy reform in early nineteenth-century Scotland; a course ofclinical lectures on nervous diseases delivered in late nineteenth-century Paris; and a self-consciously staged and self-professedly perverse "performative reading" of seduction scenes in psychoanalysis and fiction by a contemporary American feminist. To snatch a line from the not altogether inappropriate context ofMoby Dick, this is about as diverse an ensemble of texts as any "poor devil of a Sub-Sub" scribbler could hope to "grubworm" her way through in a review. Let me elaborate briefly, beginning with the two tomes reprinted in the Tavistock Series under the equally able editorial eyes of sociologist Andrew Scull and historian Ruth Harris. Despite sharing a common lecture format, W. A. F. Browne's WhatAsylums Were, Are, and Ought To Be (1837) and J-M. Charcot's Clinical Lectures (originally published between 1882-85) are products ofboth markedlydistinct psychiatric epochs and cultural milieus, and inherently unlike in terms ofsubstance and scope of address. The work of the Scottish alienist, Browne, focuses primarily upon psychiatric practice: the construction and management of asylums in past, present, and future. Charcot's book, conversely, is comprised of a series of detailed investigations of pathological anatomy in relation to disorders such as hysteria, and focuses alternately upon 54Victorian Review psychophysiological theory. Browne's work, polemical in intent, aims explicitly to "preach a crusade in [the] cause" ofpsychiatric reform to a lay audience: "to condense," in the words of the author, in a plain, practical, and yet still popular form, the results of observation in the treatment of insanity, for the specific and avowed purpose ofdemanding from the public an amelioration ofthe condition of the insane. (1) Charcot's treatise, on the other hand, is pedagogic in style, and quite expressly prepared for a medical audience. In fact, as Ruth Harris reminds us in her introduction, these lectures reproduce not Charcot's flamboyant public 'leçons du mardi" at the Salpôtrière, but rather, their more "sober, academic" and "official" vendredi counterparts (lii). Katherine Cummings's study of seduction and hysteria in Telling Tales also offers itself, in part, as a sort of reprint or copy of classical texts—classics of psychoanalytic theory, that is. Her work, engagingly "scripted" as a form of ficto-theoretical courtroom drama, juxtaposes readings of such "canonical" novels as Clarissa, Bleak House, and Tender is the Night, with "reproductions of] seduction scripts that have been written by masterful males" (5): Freud, Lacan, and Derrida by name. "By repeating and then revising what [male theorists] have scripted," Cummings appropriates "paternal pretexts]" (279). In obvious respects, then, this is a profoundly heterogenous collection of material. But the very disparity of these works, in fact, also seems suggestive, inasmuch as the ideological and theoretical constructions of asylumdom and the hysterical body offered, respectively, by Browne and Charcot, provide a nice counterpoint to Cummings's deconstructive project in Telling Tales. More than that, upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that both nineteenth-century texts invite, as one way of understanding them, interpretations loosely along the lines of the seduction plot outlined by Cummings. "[Depending upon the tale and die teller," as the latter remarks, "to seduce" may denote not only sexual abuse or rape, but "to allure, captivate, or fascinate" (1). Insofar as the works of both Charcot and Browne present instances of a non-violent desire for mastery over an other (the subject of the hysteric, the subject of madness in general), and "are so structured that it is difficult to disentangle...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 53-66
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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