Monday, January 21, 2008

The Napoleon of the Neuroses

Maybe there is a manic quality. Maybe there is anger. Maybe there is an uncommunicative quality. Maybe there is intense passion. Maybe there is intense fear. And maybe there is nothing but a swoon.

Half dressed and on display, Blanche Marie Wittman does just that in Andrè Brouillet's portrayal of a Jean-Martin Charcot hypnosis session. Charcot is on the left. If you are in hypnosis, art or neurology circles, you may have seen this painting. Perhaps you wondered about it, perhaps not. But recently, these people came back to life for me, or at least at my imagination. Who are they? To begin with, let's take the beautiful swooning woman. Just an average Victorian? Not so. She was Blanche Marine Wittman, known as the "Queen of the Hysterics" (5) at the Salpêtrière Hospital. The man to her left? Why that is Jean Jean-Martin Charcot, the subject of this posting. We also briefly met him during our Freudian Esoteric Saturday.

*Note the photo series below - this is the reality of Blanche.

Interesting things to know about Charcot:

  • He was a professor at the University of Paris for 33 years. (2)
  • In 1862 he became involved with the Salpêtrière Hospital, where he established a neurological clinic. He also became director of it. (2)
  • He discovered and described many neurological maladies. (3)
  • He was opposed to animal testing (a hurray from the animal lovers). (3)
  • He utilized hypnosis (yes,this is where it comes in) to study hysteria.

His premise: Hysteria is caused by hereditary that creates a weak neurological system. Traumatic events could cause the hysteria to manifest, and the hysteria would be "progressive and irreversible." (2)

His hypnotic theory: Hypnosis could induce hysteria. The only people who could be hypnotized were those for a propensity towards hereditary hysteria. He did not use it to cure hysteria or alleviate it; he used only to study hysteria. (2)

So what is so special about Charcot hypnosis? You guess it - hysteria. Through hypnotic means, he studied hysteria in women - inducing it to create universal rules for hysteria attacks. He used hypnosis to support his theories, devised from his profession of being a neurologist.

For those who have not kept up with hypnosis, his findings have been laid to rest and are no longer necessarily believed by practitioners or the psychological community.

But what he also did, was bring back some validity towards hypnosis after poor Mesmer caused it to go out of favor (that is a whole another story for a different rainy day, but suffice to say, Mesmer brought hypnosis into the lime light in the 1800s and it did not go so well).

However, somewhere along the line, the results Charcot was getting may have had more to do with phenomenon related to hypnosis shows of today. In fact, in his demonstrations, he used the Salpêtrière's amphitheatre and was know for his dramatics. His results were thought to be more like those of hypnosis show, where the desire of the person being hypnotized is to please and give the results that are suggested. (4) Along with putting his subjects in a theatrical light in the amphitheater, he also photographed his clients in the midst's of their hysteria. (6) See photo to the left.

At some point, Charcot started to doubt his findings and even told his protege, Sigmund Freud that he felt that there is always an underlying reason for hysteria. (1) Later Freud, Alfred Binet, and Pierre Janet, his students, went on in the study of hypnosis, advancing it and disproving that only those who are hysterically minded can be hypnotized. (2)

  1. Sigmund Freud - Life and Work - Jean-Martin Charcot
  2. People and Discoveries - Jean-Martin Charcot
  3. Jean-Martin Charcot Biography (1825-1893)
  4. Human Intelligence: Jean-Martin Charcot
  5. Jean Martin Charcot and Blanche Wittmann
  6. Image & Narrative:Gender, Ideology and Display
  7. Wikipedia

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