I am sorry, but what you call assumptive is not either assumptive or
reasoning but a description of historical definitions based on several years
of reading--far too much to summarize here. Also, what is described in
"Hysteria" is in fact a description that would fit then current views of one
manifestation of "hysteria." I will have to refer you to an article I am doing
when it comes out. I have traced Eliot's own reading on the subject also
from at least graduate school through his writings. I am not making
absurd off-the-cuff comments. It was a great deal of pre-Freudian
Freud was not the dominant figure up until 1920 that he now seems to be.
He was in fact one of three key theorists of hysteria according to a major
medical journal in 1910. The others were Janet and Babinski. It was not
Freud who mainly figures in Eliot's own comments. But if I keep up this
line I will not need to write the article. I have given this much of it as a
paper however. I would note that in some writing at the time
"uncontrollable laughter" was a "hysterical" symptom, but the man in
"Hysteria" could also be described as an "hysteric." I don't care if you
agree or not, but I am not speculating or writing from a lack of reading. It
would clearly have been foolish to make such comments just on a wild
reading of the poems. Simply informing me I am wrong implies I have not
done the work, and I have.
Date sent: Sun, 29 Sep 2002 12:59:00 +0100
Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From: Jennifer Formichelli <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: Using biography/Reply to Nancy
To: [log in to unmask]
I have to take direct issue with this. Two points. First. You write:
it matters first because it is a directly biographical line that he put in
> the poem despite his claim that poetry was not about the person.
Whether or not this is a 'directly biographical line' (which, since it
doesn't mention TSE's particular circumstances it does not seem to me to
be, and were one to take it as such than each and every name of a place
which TSE or anyone who knew him had visited/lived/ate lunch/used the
loo/flossed teeth in must be taken as an example of same), it does not
therefore justify the notion that the poetry is 'about the person'. It may
indeed be, as I think TWL is, about the world about the person. If you see
Second. Your comment: "I do not think it accidental that so
> many poems include hysteria, not least "Hysteria." But epilepsy was
> classed as hysteria in psychology at the time, so in "Sweeney Erect" the
> worry about hysteria in the house is a literal comment on the epileptic
> on the bed."
This is not solid reasoning; it is assumptive. First of all, no poem can
of course include the medical definition of 'hysteria' unless it describe
that condition, which *none* of TSE's poems do. The hysteria in 'Hysteria'
is of course not the *medical* condition, but rather a secondary meaning,
of 'intense laughter or sadness' (quite a lot of which goes in Byron's Don
Juan). Secondly, you write "epilepsy was > classed as hysteria in
psychology at the time", which is simply not true.Freud is I assume one of
the major writers and thinkers on 'hysteria' (though certainly not its
inventor, as the OED, and in fact King Lear bear out), and he does not
conflate the condition with epilepsy. Nor does Dostoevsky (who,
incidentally, also informs us in his novels that it was well known at the
time that smoking resulted in illness, regardless of what tobacco
companies say). Nor does Eliot, in speaking of Dostoevsky in 1923, where
he distinguishes the conditions (as does Shakespeare, when he writes of
the 'falling sickness' which afflicts Caesar and Othello, and whose
medical history predates hysteria, I believe).
They are particularly and purposefully not quite connected in 'Sweeney
Erect' either. Far from, as you write, "a literal comment on the epileptic
on > the bed.", we have no evidence whatever to prove that 'the epileptic'
is hysterical. The poem says 'Curves backward, clutching at her sides'.
And the fears about it are a play on what one's predictable responses
might be to a situation ever so slightly shadowy, and suspected by those
suspect. But, since Eliot's poetry is a poetry of responses about
responses, we had better assume nothing.
Given Freud's horrific behaviour in relation to Dora, I shudder to think
what 'an aesthetics of hysteria' might be.