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  • The Hysteric Rebels:Rethinking Radical Socio-Political Transformation with Foucault and Lacan
  • Claudia Leeb (bio)

1. Introduction

The hysteric was an important subject for Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault, insofar as s/he sheds light on the ways in which knowledge, truth and power converge in scientific discourses. Furthermore, both thinkers turned to the hysteric subject, because s/he exposes the ways in which scientific discourses produce the hysteric subject, "woman," as a subordinated being. Finally, both thinkers discussed the hysteric subject to find an answer to the question: how we can theorize the political subject, who not only resist but radically rebel against power structures that subordinate us in modern capitalist societies?1

Foucault and Lacan are rarely brought into conversation with each other, particularly when it comes to theorizing political subjectivity. One reason for this is Foucault's own reservations towards psychoanalysis,2 and the reservations harbored by contemporary scholars who draw on Foucault, who are mostly opposed, if not hostile, to Lacan. These scholars suggest that Lacan, in contrast to Foucault, either operates with a repressive notion of power,3 conceptualizes the symbolic domain as an all-powerful force,4 or gives up on the subject altogether,5 and as such he is (unlike Foucault) of no use when it comes to theorizing political subjectivity.

However, such pitting of Foucault against Lacan misses the ways in which both thinkers theorize subject constitution in relation to discourse, and most importantly, how both thinkers elaborate the hysteric as the political subject who not only resists but transforms power structures in a particular—namely capitalist—society, which is a topic that has so far been overlooked in the literature. Furthermore, both thinkers assist in shedding light on Freud's classic interpretation of the "hysteric" Dora,6 as an example of a scientific master discourse on hysteria aimed to discipline her into the norm of the bourgeois, female and heterosexual subject. I show that hysteric symptoms are not the result of an individual pathology, but rather the oppressive societal norms and power structures along the lines of class, gender, and sexuality against which Dora rebelled. [End Page 607]

While thinkers have pointed to the ways in which Freud's interpretation of the Dora case spun off into the master's discourse (Verhaeghe, 1999; Mahoney, 20005; Cottet, 2012, Gammelgaard, 2017),7 these thinkers did not elaborate on the ways in which the hysteric's (Dora's) discourse not only resisted but radically transformed the master's discourse. Also, while some thinkers have foregrounded the ways in which Dora was a victim of patriarchal and heteronormative power structures (Mitchell, 1982; Moi, 1985; Rose, 1985, Gammelgaard, 2017), these thinkers missed the ways in which such power structures were enmeshed in capitalism, which aimed to discipline the hysteric into classed, gendered and sexed norms against which Dora successfully rebelled.8

This paper also contributes to foregrounding another dimension of Lacan's thought. While most Lacanian-inspired thinkers suggest that it is the psychoanalytic discourse, and in particular the "psychoanalytic act," that brings radical change about,9 they have largely ignored is what Lacan had to say about hysteria and the ways it is connected to the psychoanalytic act. This paper shows that the psychoanalytic discourse, which we find on the other side of the master's discourse, unfolds through the hysteric's discourse.10 Furthermore, because the psychoanalytic discourse often spins off into the master's discourse (such as Freud's discourse on Dora), the hysteric's discourse remains the main discourse in a position to radically transform power. Furthermore, while some thinkers who assess Lacan's reading of the hysteric (Dora) point to the ways in which (unconscious) knowledge is on the side of the hysteric (Verhaeghe, 1999, Soler, 2006, Giraldo, 2017), these thinkers do not elaborate on the ways such knowledge can lead to radical change.11

In bringing Lacan and Foucault together, I do not aim to cover over their differences. One important difference is that for Lacan, the rebellion of the hysteric is the result of knowledge located in the unconscious, which comes to surface in her/his symptoms, whereas for Foucault the hysteric rebels in her/his knowingly lying about...


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