When did the Anglo-Saxon identity die out?

The knotted subject

Elisabeth Bronfen's magnum opus "The Knotted Subject" is a striking example of this. Almost 800 pages are once again devoted to the subject of hysteria in the modern age, which for over 30 years has become a prime example for feminism, as it were, of how a male-dominated psychology and psychiatry has mercilessly handed over the expression of female desire to clinical offense. Bronfen's study also inscribes itself in the tradition of this rehabilitation of the language of hysteria as an "unheard of message" - as the Lacan student Lucien Israel called it. She examines medical discourses and cultural stagings of this enigmatic psychosomatic disorder, constantly changing in its symptoms, which has often been disavowed as the staging of a cunning simulator, deceiver or seductress. In psychiatric and psychoanalytical, but above all in literary texts, in operas, films and in the fine arts, Bronfen traces what appears to be nothingness, which for her can be decoded as a message of "vulnerability": "If traditional concepts of hysteria are still at the Holding on to the idea of ​​a lot of ado about nothing, I suggest taking this 'nothing' and flexible self-designs very seriously and understanding them as a language that allows the subject to express both personal and cultural discomfort [...] The hysteric proclaims the message of vulnerability - the wounding of the symbolic [...]; the wounding of identity [...]; but - possibly above all - the vulnerability of the body in the face of its own changeability and Mortality."

Admittedly, there is still a lot to be worked on. Georges Didi-Huberman's study of the "invention of hysteria" through photographic practices in the Salpêtrière, the Parisian clinic where Charcot, Freud's teacher, identified the syndrome of hysteria through systematic photo documentation of the seizures at the end of the 19th century, has just appeared in German of his patients like an artist. In addition, the recently translated study by Mikkel Borch-Jacobson on Freud's case "Anna O." a sensational new light on the cultural staging of the hysteria around 1900, by also referring to the medical induction of the phenomenon and exposing one of the most famous patients as the beneficiary of this collective media spectacle. In addition, the interest of research has shifted beyond the highlights of the Salpêtrière and the Freudian couch to the everyday medical routine of managing a gender order around 1900. Dorion Weickmann's essay on this topic drew attention to the stereotypes of "vampire" and "nanny" in order to trace the downward path that this social disease traverses within class society. Interesting is not only the role of the mass media such as the press and film, but also the spread of the symptoms to the so-called strong sex, which Weickmann particularly emphasized, which in the sense of the socio-hygienic ideology of the epoch also sees itself threatened by the encounter with female instinct the scene of prostitution as well as that of the cinematographic curiosity.

The approach of the Zurich Anglicist and Americanist Elisabeth Bronfen owes more or less explicitly to this new reading of the fin-de-siècle fashion woman's disease, especially in the Anglo-Saxon field. By turning back to the reason for the ambivalent fascination of this dazzling double appearance, she is breaking new ground. The accent that she puts on the motive of the injury or the wound should at the same time distract from the most common prejudice about hysteria, namely the monocausalism of the sexual and, more precisely, of the female complex as deficient beings compared to the male sex. Bronfen repeats the traditional thesis of the traumatic experience, which is reflected in the tangled knot of the hysterical symptomatizations, but she locates it in a more general field of experience of human existence than, in her opinion, sexuality and especially its male primacy would be. And above all, she goes back to the trauma of all trauma, namely that of childbirth, which is inscribed in the body at the point where it experiences its center as simultaneously eccentric, namely the navel: "On the one hand, the navel stands for a wound of the newborn, but at the same time refers to the separation from the overwhelming integrity of the prenatal maternal body and thus links the vulnerability brought about by the loss with the empowerment ... "

In this sense, the slogan of the book (from the Greek expression for navel) is: Omphalus instead of phallus, recognition of deficiency as a real law of deficiency instead of symbolic castration. Elisabeth Bronfen even goes so far as to locate the memory of a primal wound in the navel, which, in the paradigmatic form of knotting, allows the subject to appear as a shield against the original. It emerges from an original separation or separation from the maternal origin, which shows all sexual desire only as an afterthought, cover-up fantasy; just as the hysterical staging precedes all symbolic representations as omphalic: "The knotted subject, which is expressed in the language of hysteria, links chains of memories, fantasies and somatic symptoms that arise from the cutting of the cord, with which the psychic process counteracts any work of representation delimits an original gap. "

This archetypal wounding of the umbilical trauma has actually always been shared with men by modern sick women. Man and woman have a common wound that remains as a common scar, the navel, around which everything in hysteria revolves. Perhaps this dedifferentiation on the sexual arena of what has recently been referred to as gender in terms of pure behavioral norms is the real root for the vehemently persistent desexualization of the problem area. Elisabeth Bronfen is, however, clever enough to subject the description of her generally human navel gaze again to the characteristics of gender, which - according to the words of the Belgian feminist Luce Irigaray - is not one.

The navel as a wound of loss and as the connection point of the origin is namely a model of a perfect simulation, the pretense of an erogenous opening that cannot be penetrated, that leads nowhere and as a hole is nothing: a nothing that does something, the knot of the absences for the improper representation of all the non-events, non-places, non-bodies for what is called subjectivity, so: Much ado about nothing. The undecidability between opening and sealing places the human subject, as it were, in the field of an aporia, that is, a pathlessness and stonelessness, for which the knot is one of the oldest symbols of mystery.

Elisabeth Bronfen also speaks symbolically of the subjective setting of an "omphalic crypt", whose space of hysterical knots should allow a traumatic enjoyment of the lost origin and the resulting impermanence or changeability beyond the paternal-phallic law. On the other hand, all attempts are doomed to failure, which try to solve the undecidable of the omphalic origin by the Gordian coup d'état of a gender difference under the sign of the phallus. At the beginning there is of course the fundamental myth of occidental subjectivity, namely King Oedipus. Bronfen's book diagnoses here, as it were, the primordial knot between the phallus and omphalus in the traumatic form of the failed matricide. Oedipus, who like all hysterics - to speak with Wagner - is "devoid of knowledge, but full of desire", wants to atone for father through matricide, but fails because of the impotence to erase his own origin: Jokaste kills himself and thus forces Oedipus to do so Recognition of his mortality, the maternal origin of which he cannot catch up with in the act of self-blindness as subsequent self-castration.

With this, the author has given the basic theme of the fundamental loss of the maternal body and its subsequent oedipal symptom representation as a sexually castrated and demonic woman, which she has with a great sense for original connections and a close reading in the best Anglo-Saxon tradition through various examples of knowledge - and entertainment culture through conjugation. The course begins with an illuminating interpretation of Hitchcock's "Psycho" as the drama of a failed cord. Norman, the psychopath in the lonely motel who keeps his mother's corpse in the basement and kills the unsuspecting showering young woman Marion in the bathroom in one of the most legendary scenes in film history, has never been able to overcome the trauma of birth and separation. The film visualizes the traumatic core of the mother's relationship, which is knotted up in murder for identification, which barely excludes a sexual dimension of the shower scene: "Norman's preservation of a ribbon that was severed twice - first through birth and then through matricide when he was his Mother stabbed and cut the umbilical cord again - keeps the traumatic shock alive. "

The fact that this scene cannot simply be interpreted as a fantasy scenario of sexual penetration, but must also be read as a return to the traumatic shock caused by an earlier cut, illustrates a revealing detail. Only once is shown how the knife actually stabs Marion, and the blade is typically not aimed at the genitals or breasts, but at the abdominal area immediately above the navel. Norman mother, one could say, doesn't just want to kill Marion, he wants to penetrate her exactly where she can become a mother herself. "

Elisabeth Bronfen thus presents a conclusive reconstruction of the delusional structure in Hitchcock's "Psycho", and yet there remains a problem for the reader: the omphalic interpretation model of the fundamental maternal conflict describes, in a fascinating manner, a disease syndrome commonly known as psychosis. But where is the neurotic hysteria? Much can be said about the Psycho Norman, but one thing he is certainly not, and that is a hysteric. Freud, whose traumatic etiology of hysterical symptoms is central to Bronfen, once clearly defined the boundary between neurosis and psychosis: the neurotic suppresses his desire and turns it into symptoms in order to adapt to reality, while the psychotic suppresses reality in order to adapt to theirs Set the delusional world of his desires. In this sense, one is better served with other examples of hysteria in the book, such as Woody Allen's "Zelig", Flaubert's "Madame Bovery" or Wagner's "Parsifal" with his character Kundry singing the cry of suffering from Mozart's Magic Flute. Here no dagger is drawn against the maternal abdominal area, but rather converts the traumatic knowledge of the wish into subjective physical disturbances, which Freud was able to bring back into the order of things through a symbolic reading.

Unfortunately, the author refrains from discussing her use of the doctrine of hysteria in the context of psychoanalytic psychopathology. It would have been obvious, for example, to take a closer look at Freud's lifelong rejection of psychosis as a psychoanalytically untreatable basic disorder, because this is where the core conflict of the maternal bond and the schizoid, that is, cord-cutting dramas characterized by splitting rather than repression, ferment. Irritatingly, the Freud school student Melanie Klein is not mentioned either, who has exposed herself to a radical suspicion of heresy with her focus on the preoedipal, primary psychotic drama of the mother-child dyad. One would also have expected an examination of the book by Otto Rank, "The Trauma of Birth", which also arouses Freud's suspicion, in which Bronfen's approach is prepared in some aspects.

As the reading progresses, one cannot help but get the impression that the confusion of the umbilical cord into the knot of a traumatic real is more about mechanisms, such as Lacan, for example, described as the rejection of the symbolic: that is, a non-recognition of the paternal law, which consequently reappears through paranoid projections in the outside of real phenomena. What Bronfen herself diagnosed as the "phantomization of the other" corresponds to this phenomenon, for which she could certainly have found many umbilical nodes in another document from Freud's time, namely in Schreber's "Memoirs of a Nervous Man". It seems as if the author got entangled in a scientific self-misunderstanding, which she has cited, for example, from Ann Radcliff and Bram Stoker's horror romance or from Cronenberg's horror films, evidence of a history of hysteria, which rather a psychotic disintegration of reality or its populations with the Demonstrate phantoms of a delusional subject. Which does not mean that there are not enough hysterical traits in Dracula's story, for example in the wounds of the female victims. Only these stand out in a different setting than the paranoid projections of the undead revenants carried by the male protagonists. The hysterical conversion of experiences into physically staged signs, on the other hand, is an "illness through representation", as Bronfen puts it, especially with a view to Charcot's psychiatric theater. With it, the physicians' urge to visualize comes to the highest perfection by turning the hysterical body into a "public spectacle": "In Charcot's theater of living pathology, both sides of the hysterical body can be endlessly read and reproduced - the body surface, the skin as well the gestures, poses, gestures that draw the interpellating other into the field of vision. What was significantly missing in Charcot's spectacle of the hysterical bodies was the inversion of visuality, that is, the psychological topology behind the body surface, which the visual examination of the body organs cannot penetrate Freud should investigate this inverted scene ... "

Freud is the one who first listened and placed his analytical work at the interface between narrative representation and silent witness to the trauma. But here, too, Elisabeth Bronfen makes up a subsequent cover figure that conceals the actual navel of vulnerability.From the dream interpretation she takes the dream of Irma's injection to show how in the psychoanalytic interpretation the patient's suffering disappears behind Freud's story. At the heart of the argument, however, is a reconstruction of the Emma Eckstein case, who, due to her hysterical symptoms, was operated on by Freud's childhood friend Fliess on the nose and almost bled to death from a surgical error. Instead of doubting his friend's wild speculations about the connection between hysteria and sexual sensitivities of the nasal mucosa, Freud's interpretation chooses the recourse to projection and accuses the patient of bleeding out of love for him: further evidence unintentionally provided by Bronfen that it is is actually the paranoia of men that creates hysterical women.

Perhaps it is the drastic unscrupulousness with which Freud shifts the guilt of his friend onto the victim and at the same time pushes his own sinus congestion to the fore that makes Elisabeth Bronfen more or less blind to the symbolism of the gender identity crisis of Emma Eckstein Meisters himself. In her book, however, two basic dogmas remain unavoidable: namely, the turning away from fatherly authority and the universality of the sexual that is based on it. The contrast between the traumatic and sexual etiology of hysteria is emphasized again and again, which is misleadingly wrong, at least in the context of Freud, since for Freud it was precisely the early childhood sexual experiences that had a traumatic effect. With her obsessive evocation of the originality of a traumatic knowledge of death rooted in the umbilical node, the author falls behind Freud's Copernican turnaround, who for his part deciphered such navel gazes as cover figures of the tabooed sex: as a shift in infantile sexual theories. Bronfen's existentialist pathos is - as she herself admits, by the way - only hysterical staging, which on the occasion of the interpretation of Hitchcock's Marnie reveals the corresponding gender strategy of the masquerade: "The hysterics makes this self-deconstructing masquerade of femininity and daughterhood its own Symptom, but she believes neither in femininity nor in the role of daughter, which she precariously cannot avoid assuming. At the same time, however, she also appropriates masculinity in order to undermine the paternal authority to which she turns with her game. "

Voilà, that is the goal, so no longer the recognition of the lack as a kind of ontological thrownness, but the ruse of a will to power. It becomes understandable why such genuinely Freudian figures as the work of mourning do not appear in Bronfen's modes of death; why Foucault's dictum of the "hystericalization of women's bodies" is quoted without mentioning in a word his background historical diagnosis of the extinction of the ancient art of love by the modern sexual sciences. All of the debates in the book are strikingly clean, in keeping with the American culture from which the work was translated. In this context it is also irritating that Bronfen's level of knowledge is largely limited to the Anglo-American language area and only appears to be very selective about European publications on their subject, it is annoying that translators or proofreading did not find it necessary to cite the existing German translations of the works cited. Perhaps one wanted to maintain a touch of strangeness in order to keep the secret of hysteria: it is well known that one of Freud's paradigmatic hysterics spoke only in English about her desire and accordingly articulated the earliest formulation of the psychoanalytic talking cure as "chimney sweeping".

Elisabeth Bronfen has certainly hit a sore spot at the navel of knowledge with her big offensive criticism of the phallo-logocentrism of the occidental doctrine of hysteria. Their neo-existentialist desexualization mania, however, pours out the child with the bathwater. The fact that the constantly evoked "traumatic enjoyment" is kept free from the penetrating smell of penetrating sexuality is in fact quite hysterical and has something of American puritanism and its political correctness. Such dilutions of the Freudian libido concept of Eros and Thanatos are not unknown in the transatlantic version of ego psychology. Incidentally, Bronfen would have found what he was looking for in other films by Woody Allen or with Marilyn Monroe.

Papa Freud, however, would have only smiled at all these not exactly new allegations against his alleged sexism and replied: Anyone who needs so many pages to keep saying: No, it's not sexuality, actually says the opposite about the cause of the hysteria. But maybe the whole thing is just a question of the way you speak, and Elisabeth Bronfen's book, which was first published in the USA, has only adapted to the new - by the way, even hysterical and actually criminal - terminology of the American president that you can, if you feel like it enjoys, of course, does not have intercourse.