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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 This provocative and illuminating book charts the persistence of a cultural phenomenon.
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 s and the hypnotic cures of the s, the hysterical syndromes of the s 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 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. Paperbackpages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Hystoriesplease sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Feb 12, El rated it liked it Shelves: The concept of “hysteria” was historically applied only to women.
The idea that whatever symptoms they are afflicted by tells where the woman’s uterus has moved – for example, if a woman is complaining of headaches, her uterus has moved to her head; if she is complaining of leg weakness, her uterus has moved to her legs and feet. Modern medicine has taught that the uterus does in fact not move around the body, and is definitely found in one place only. Additionally, women aren’t the only people The concept of “hysteria” was historically applied only to women.
Additionally, women aren’t the only people who suffer from what are considered “hysterical” symptoms; though when a man suffers from similar symptoms, the cause and treatment are defined differently.
Elaine Showalter – Wikipedia
Elaine Showalter here discusses a lot of the fads of 90s hysteria, covering a wide variety of familiar topics and pinning them all under the controversial title of “hysteria”: Chronic fatigue syndrome, recovered memory, Gulf War syndrome, Multiple personality syndrome, alien abduction, and satanic ritual abuse. Showalter’s take on these syndromes or experiences are founded more in the power of suggestion through their prevalence in the media or in discussions with medical professionals.
Clearly any person suffering from any of the above would likely find some offense to Showalter’s beliefs, and would possibly feel she’s just like the thousands of other people who believe that these things are just in the sufferer’s mind.
The 80s and 90s brought into the media a different sort of woman – the ambitious, the hardworking, the Supermom. Suddenly there are women going to their health professionals across the world with similar symptoms with no clear explanation.
Similarly men returning from the Gulf War begin showing symptoms of their own, and then their families begin also showing symptoms. The media slaps a title on it – Gulf War syndrome. Showalter questions what came first – the symptoms or the syndrome.
Interesting all around, though often dated in some of the references. Multiple personality syndrome has become Dissociative identity disorder, and not many people really question the legitimacy of the person suffering or even consider mentioning it in the same breath as alien abduction – though Showalter is not shy.
She feels that as times change, the popular hysteria of the times will change along with it. Freud was the fad-setter of his time, followed by Jacques Lacan, and the trend will continue. It’s just a matter of time before a new form of hysteria hits the airwaves and the doctor’s offices. Jan 14, Jennifer rated it liked it Shelves: I read this book because Kevin Young referred to it in Bunk one of the problems with reading interesting nonfiction is that it can lead to a rabbit hole of research.
Given that it’s twenty years old, Elaine Showalter’s book seems outdated now–things like Gulf War Syndrome and alien abductions don’t seem to get as much play in the media as they used to, but now we have rumors such as vaccines causing autism a far more dangerous ‘hystory,’ in my opinion, and one which I’m not sure Showalter’s I read this book because Kevin Young referred to it in Bunk one of the problems with reading interesting nonfiction is that it can lead to a rabbit hole of research.
Given that it’s twenty years old, Elaine Showalter’s book seems outdated now–things like Gulf War Syndrome and alien abductions don’t seem to get as much play in the media as they used to, but now we have rumors such as vaccines causing autism a far more dangerous ‘hystory,’ in my opinion, and one which I’m not sure Showalter’s Freudian psychoanalytical approach could explain.
This book has some value as a way to look at society’s panics and disorders, but it probably should be a way station rather than an endpoint.
Feb 08, Kevin Lawrence rated it really liked it. I vaguely remember skimming through this book back when it first came out in the 90s and I was researching for a presentation on the relationship of Sunday night viewing habits of Americans who alternatively watched X-Files and Touched By an Angel basically, my premise was around the t.
I picked the book up again this time because I was thinking about contemporary anti-vaxxers and how their pa I vaguely remember skimming through this book back when it first came out in the 90s and I was researching for a presentation on the relationship of Sunday night viewing habits of Americans who alternatively watched X-Files and Touched By an Angel basically, my premise was around the t.
I picked the book up again this time because I was thinking about contemporary anti-vaxxers and how their paranoid behavior presents a larger public health threat — asking myself, ‘are these people hysterical? Showalter is one smart cookie who knows when to be compassionate to people who have real problems that are transferred into unreal diagnosis, and she can also be really funny when the “evidence” just cries out for it. For example, she notes how alien abductions start to become more international into the late 20th century, but that the details take on local color; so while aliens appear to American abductees as smarmy “men in black” invaders, Showalter writes that in contrast: Always male, he is ‘six to seven feet tall, handsome, with blond shoulder-length hair.
His blue ayes [ sic ] are kind and loving. He is paternal, watchful, smiling, affectionate, youthful, all-knowing, and wears a form-fitting uniform. This is the kind of alien I want to be abducted by, but as an American, my chances are pretty slim. If I have one reservation about the book it is that all the sections are not of the consistently same high-quality as Showalter’s very well researched and well argued first section unsurprising, given her previous books on hysteria and women in literature.
The second section is slight and I really feel needs to have a chapter on popular media depictions of what Showalter has developed in terms of “mass hystories” both as a bridge to the third section but also to support the subtitle of the book, “hysterical epidemics and modern media” — where is the modern media in this book?
The third section is well organized and as developed as the first section, but I felt like the conclusion needed to put the history of hysteria that Showalter so expertly develops in the first section into focus with the examples of mass hystories she examines in the third section; as it is, the final concluding chapter feels like a mad rush to get the book into print.
But overall, this is a very thought-provoking book that I am sure will rankle various believers but otherwise get people thinking critically. I’m not, as a rule, a sympathetic reader of feminist literature nor of contemporary criticism. However, I thought this an extremely good book by an extremely knowledgeable, perceptive and sceptical author. The subject is mass hysteria, or rather the different narratives of social phenomena of hysterical origin, such as Gulf War syndrome, fatigue syndrome, Satanic-ritual-abuse and alien-abduction subcultures and the rest of the sorry farrago of conspiracy-theorist nonsense that passes for culture I’m not, as a rule, a sympathetic reader of feminist literature nor of contemporary criticism.
The subject is mass hysteria, or rather the different narratives of social phenomena of hysterical origin, such as Gulf War syndrome, fatigue syndrome, Satanic-ritual-abuse and alien-abduction subcultures and the rest of the sorry farrago of conspiracy-theorist nonsense that passes for culture in America nowadays. True, Showalter explicitly adheres to the social-scientist’s erroneous perception that culture shapes people, rather than the other way round; however, the case-histories and narrative developments she recounts are clearly instances of people shaping culture which then in turn shape people–but nobody ever denied that, surely?
To her credit, Showalter is most critical of feminists and liberal academics who help confabulate showqlter promote the spread of these ‘hystories’. Her book is, in the end, a critique of the contemporary social-science establishment from the inside.
May 26, Evan rated it liked it Shelves: The work in this book tracing hysteria as a cultural mode, model and concept across two centuries is very astute. The structure of the book that links by theme, rather than era, helps to make these links concrete in the readers’ minds.
Showalter is a literary and historical scholar, and this is where she is strongest. However, not enough references for a scholar trying to trace the same path – some very wide assertions made, and no obvious sources on multiple occasions for the random statistics t The work in this book tracing hysteria as a cultural mode, model and concept across two centuries is very astute.
However, not enough references for a scholar trying to trace the same path – some very wide assertions made, and no obvious sources on multiple occasions for the random statistics that litter the text.
Also, her seeming ‘diagnosis’ of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is deeply unhelpfully framed, and poorly referenced by the medical sources looking into this condition. Perhaps, yes, it is a form of stress disorder, but the way Showalter frames her ‘scepticism’ however is very unhelpful. Just as there is a difference between a soldier with PTSD or ‘shell shock’ and someone who claims their dog has the same condition, this book seems to elide the CFS sufferers into the ‘and my dog’ category.
She’s an historian not a practitioner of psychiatry or any form of medicine, and this must be borne in mind by readers. Arrogant and sweeping generalisations about multiple cultural phenomena that should not belong together in one volume. Most particularly, her zhowalter of chronic fatigue syndrome is appalling and invidious, and harmful to the million US sufferers and many millions more worldwide. Shows hystoroes the dangers of taking your brilliance and status for granted and failing to do the proper research.
This book should never have been published, or at least, that section should not have been included. Dec 01, Rj rated it it was amazing. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Showalter’s work until I picked up this book recently.
I showakter her work on hysteria from my undergrad years when I wrote a paper on hysteria at the London Hospital for the Insane many years ago. This hysgories looks at hysterical epidemics in the s and s in North America, including alien abduction, Chronic fatigue syndrome, Satanic ritual abuse, recovered memory, Gulf War syndrome and multiple personality syndrome. Showalter connects these hysterical events t I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Showalter’s work until I picked up this book recently.
Showalter connects these hysterical events to the larger study of hysteria in a manner that is hystoroes once readable and intelligent. A must read for anyone interested in how moral panics operate. Infectious diseases suowalter by ecological change, modern technology, urbanization, jet travel, and human interaction.
Infectious epidemics of hysteria spread by stories circulated through self-help book, articles in newspapers and magazines, TV talk shows and series, films, the Internet, and even literary criticism. Above all, hysteria tells a story, and specialists in understanding and interpreting stories elaie ways to read it.
It’s a standing joke that Americans no longer view themselves as sinners struggling with the guilt of lust, avarice or greed but rather as sick people addicted to wlaine, shopping, or sweets.
A doctor of other authority figure must first define, name, and publicize the disorder and then attract patients into its community. Epidemics of hysteria showalted to peak at the ends of centuries, when people are already alarmed about social change. Nineteenth-century French doctors organized their case studies of hysterical women according to the conventions of the French novel, especially in its seduction scenes, and writers based their portraits of seductive or unhappy women on medical textbooks.