Visual production and a crisis of representation. Charcot's iconography of hysteria
In the years of 1875 and 1876 the director of Salpetriere Jean-Martin Charcot decided to add new sections to the hospital, whereby creating 'a lifelike catalogue of the hysterical attack' - he founded an ophthalmologic laboratory, a photographic studio, and a museum of casts. A hysterical body was documented in many ways (e.g. through plaster casts) in various phases of attack, ranging from paralysis to contraction, from movement to stasis. 'Iconographie photographique de la Salpetriere' was to figure the whole temporal course of an attack as presented in synoptic tables, drawings and photographs. By recording the moments of rest, it cut physical symptoms into acts, scenes and tableaux. In the distortions of patients' bodies it sought 'plastic regularity' and 'affective dramaturgy'. Charcot's practice and his psychiatric discourse constituted a purely figurative production. The hysterical attack was given visual codification by cutting it into discrete poses and registering patient's affective gestures by means of visual schemes derived from painting, theatre and dance. In the series of 'Iconographie' the hysterical body becomes a sign of some invisible realm that could not be encompassed in classical representation. In the spectacle of hysteria created for medical and scientific inspection, the primal, obscure state of representation seems reinstated, which is close to 'the pure language of theatre' proclaimed by Artaud.
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