“‘Fifine has had an attack!’ We run. The poor child has fallen onto the cold paving stones, foaming, contorted, her arms in a cross, her back arched, [the muscles] contracted, tensed almost into the air. ‘Quickly, nurses! take her, lie her there…’ … this parcel of mad nerves, screaming, moving, the head thrown back, a possessed at an exorcism, like I had seen in the old painting of the holy saint which I saw in Charcot’s office” (Alphonse Daudet (1898)).

In an 1893 eulogy describing the pedagogic demonstrations of the French neurologist Dr Jean-Martin Charcot, Charles Féré noted that his former teacher:

did not pass over the opportunity to decorate the head gear of his patients with long feathers which excited above all the gaiety of the audience, but soon achieved by the diversity of their oscillations to make known the differences [between forms of diseases] which he set himself the task of demonstrating (1893: 415).

Although Charcot’s use of such coups de théâtre as this attracted considerable criticism (for example, Platel (1878: 377-388)), they were central not only to much French medical teaching, but also to the specific field of neurology which Charcot helped to develop. These performances of difficult-to-describe neurophysiological suffering proved, however, to be beyond Charcot’s medico-dramaturgical control, his extension of the anatomoclinical technique eventually becoming complicit with what, to paraphrase Foucault (1976), one might describe as a sadomasochistic incitement to perform.

Charcot has attracted interest from scholars of many disciplines, bringing to bear many different methodologies. He has been variously characterised as one of the great men of progressive medicine, an embodiment of patriarchal misogyny in his treatment of hysterical female patients, a figure whose work was deeply imbedded in debates about the relationship between art and science, or those associated with photographic documentation, as well as being an important precursor to the “discovery of the Unconscious” by his former student Sigmund Freud (see Micale, 1989, 1990:1 & 1995; Showalter, 1997; Ellenberger, 1970; Didi-Huberman, 1982). One issue overlooked in these wide-ranging analyses, however, is that of theatrical representation and performativity. Charcot’s demonstrations clearly constituted a form of theatre in their public staging of disease, pain and suffering for the purposes of pedagogy and diagnosis. Perhaps more significantly, an analysis of Charcot’s work as whole shows that performative signs, their proper interpretation, and their manipulation, lay at the heart of much of Charcot’s diagnostic and therapeutic practice.

Charcot’s work was intimately associated with the Salpêtrière Women’s Hospice in Paris. He was appointed general physician to the Salpêtrière infirmary in 1862 and in 1882 he became France’s first professor of neurology, presenting lectures on diseases of the nervous system and pathological anatomy at the hospice until his death in 1893. In 1656, the former gunpowder manufactory of the Salpêtrière had been transformed into a royally-patronised charitable institution by the foundation of the hôpitaux généraux—the “Great Confinement,” in the phrase of Foucault (1965), when mendicants and other destitute populations were gathered into state-run medical and psychiatric institutions.

Jules Clarétie, a journalist for Le temps, the administrator of la Comédie Française and a friend of Charcot, evoked in his account of the old royal complex the Shakespearean metaphor of the theatrum mundi (the “theatre of the world” or “microcosmos”). Clarétie described the crumbling edifice of the Salpêtrière as a “little town which is, at the same time, a world,” its courtyards “silent, picturesque and admirable like a theatre set, fullyequipped” for such melancholy dramatisations as those which Charcot framed and directed (1903: 179-180). In Clarétie’s novel, The Loves of an Intern, moreover, he related that within the “bare walls” of the decaying hospice “lives … a special population: old men, poor women, resting on a bench as they await death … There it is like the Versailles of pain” (Clarétie (1902)). Throughout the fin-de-siècle period, the Salpêtrière was widely acknowledged as a common setting for the staging of the melancholy spectacle of pain, suffering and disease as described in newspapers, books, fiction and medical studies.

It was not only lay audiences of Third Republic Paris who gazed with horrified curiosity at the actors of the Salpêtrière. Charcot was one of the most prominent advocates of the anatomoclinical technique, a procedure pioneered in Paris by such renowned anatomists as Jean-Baptiste Bouilliard, and Charcot’s predecessors at the Salpêtrière, Jean Cruveilhier and Pierre Paul Broca (see Hannaway & La Berge (1998)). In this technique, symptoms, which the living patient presented within the clinical environment, were systematically related to pathological signs visible in postmortem investigation, allowing the identification of which lesions or other gross and microscopic deformations of tissue caused which functional disorders. The high morbidity and mortality of the predominantly geriatric population of the Salpêtrière provided Charcot with a wealth of clinical cases from which to garner such data, enabling him to significantly clarify the nature of such conditions as sclerosis in plaques (multiple sclerosis), locomotor ataxia (tabes) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as well as diseases of the kidneys, cardiovascular illnesses and more (as summarised by Goetz Bonduelle & Gelfand (1995)).

Charcot’s particular specialty presented certain problems for anatomoclinical investigation. Firstly, neuropathology as a discipline was particularly concerned with disorders of movement. The primary symptomatic clusters which Charcot investigated included epilepsy, chorea, and Tourette’s syndrome amongst others. These were disease manifestations which could only be fully described through the performance of the living patient.

Charcot’s methodology reflected an ambivalent dialectic between the pull of the living, phenomenologically-present sufferer and other forms of documentation or representation. Charcot emphasised to his students that his own groundbreaking work in distinguishing gout from rheumatism and arthritis had only been made possible by the wide range of clinical cases available at the Salpêtrière:

it is indispensable, in effect, to fulfil this goal, to have before one’s eyes a large number of patients, in order to better be able to compare between the diverse types which affect chronic rheumatism (1988-1894, vol. 7, p. 44).

Patient material had to be literally present before the eyes of the nosologist in order to make distinctions between the different pathological types which had been produced by distinct but superficially similar disease processes.

Although pioneering many alternative representations of the pathological body, Charcot insisted that one had to return to the living case materials literally present within the lectures as the primary authority upon which medical knowledge was based. As Freud (1893) and others observed, Charcot’s professional status was almost entirely attributable to his role as a first-person orator and multi-media dramaturg, with even his published Tuesday Lessons carefully transcribed to include descriptions of stage directions and actions, quoted speech laid out as in a playscript, and so on (Charcot (1887-1888)). Knowledge was to be created either through clinical examination or by pedagogic display. All other forms of representation acted as important props to these primary theatrical devices.

The famous lesson cited by Féré above was one in which Charcot distinguished Parkinson’s disease (then known as paralysis agitans) from other tremulous disorders by fixing feathers to the heads of his demonstration subjects. When the torso of a Parkinson’s sufferer was held by one of the assistants, the feathers remained still, showing the way in which the disease was marked by reduced flexibility of the spine and neck, and hence that the characteristic head tremor of Parkinson’s sufferers was in fact a product of vibrations which emanated in the trunk. Through such performative methods, Charcot made illness dramaturgically comprehensible.

In addition to Charcot’s construction of dramaturgy for pedagogic purposes, his diagnoses themselves were also produced through the staging of disease. The lighting and relative position of the audience to the spectacle in both Charcot’s specially built 1882 rectangular lecture hall (the “amphithéâtre”), and his rooms where he saw patients, was essentially the same. The subject appeared before the audience members, with light directed parallel to their gaze, away from the seating and towards the patient. Commentators observed of Charcot’s office that “The entire room and its furnishings were painted black,” like a contemporary photographic studio, thus minimising any bounce of light from adjacent surfaces (Guillain, 1959: 51-52). Charcot himself “sits before the window, from which light falls on the faces of the two or three patients … occupying chairs in front of him” (Withington, 1893: 207). After entering, the subject was ordered to strip and typically performed various diagnostically significant movements such as walking or raising a glass to the mouth. While these actions were carried out and the case notes read aloud to Charcot by his chef de clinique, the neurologist’s eyes would “fix the patient with an extraordinary penetrative force” (Peugniez, 1893: 4). Charcot’s gaze was almost surgical in the way it helped him to precisely relate anatomical structure to observed behaviour.

A similar situation in which well-lit spectacle highlighted performative signs, also provided the basis for Charcot’s lectures. The New York physician and former student of Charcot, Moses Allen Starr, noted that, in the demonstration theatre: “After the audience had gathered, dark shutters were closed at the windows, the footlights were turned up, and the clinic began,” adding that “sometimes, when a particular feature had to be demonstrated, a calcium”–catalysed, gas-fuelled light—also known as a limelight—”was turned on the patient, whose figure” became “the chief point of light in the darkness” and consequently “could always be perfectly seen by all” (Starr, 1926: 11-12).

Subjects caught in the glare of this intense lighting took on a harsh, bleached aspect, leaping forward within the viewer’s depth of field, and casting the pathological body into stark, high-contrast relief (Platel, 1878: 386). This use of light within the lectures also worked to assimilate the living, moving body represented on stage with the various other representations which Charcot integrated into his demonstrations, such as sculptures or slides and photographs brightly cast on a screen using an early electronic projection system (Gilles de la Tourette, 1893: 248). Georges Guillain, a later successor to Charcot, summarised the neurologist’s innovative use of audiovisual dramaturgy as follows:

Behind Charcot on the stage there were numerous plates, synoptic tables, graphed curves [charting muscular actions in movement], as well as statuettes and plaster casts. With different coloured sticks of chalk, Charcot drew on the blackboard outlines of the most complicated anatomical regions of the nervous system, with which he made the audience understand with a luminous clarity. I would add that Charcot was one of the first to use projection devices in his lessons ((1959): 55).

Charcot’s framing of his pedagogic displays and public lectures was therefore vitally dependent upon the presence of the living, moving, pathological body, whilst all but annihilating this embodied presence through the deployment of a dazzling array of parallel representations. As Starr observed, after having subjects re-enact their symptoms, the lecture then proceeded with Charcot:

Dismissing the patient, he would begin to describe the lesion, and at once on the screen on the opposite side of the stage the magic lantern would flash out the picture he wished to show, either in the form of a sketch made from nature, or an actual slide of a section of the spinal cord, or part of the brain magnified by the microscope, or a photograph of some unusual clinical type (Starr, 1926: 12).

Charcot’s work was not only aggressively voyeuristic in much of its structure, but it also functioned through enacting symbolic, dramaturgical violence upon the already suffering diseased body, anatomising and dispersing its signs throughout the theatre in such a way as to heighten the dramatic visibility of such pathological qualities within the performance. The demonstration subject was dissected and reified into a collection of signifiers such as performative physical tics (grinding of the teeth, involuntary salutations, paralyses, bow-legged gait, etc) or gross deformations of the body, which were then sewed back together into the diagnostic species which made up the subject of Charcot’s lectures. It was a two-way process which unified violence (the conceptual vivisection of the patient) with creative aesthetics (the description of the diseased type) (see also Marshall (2002)).

Charcot thus framed and disseminated medical knowledge through dramaturgical performances, which were, in turn, imperfectly represented within the published lectures and photographs. The Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière in particular resembled a flip-book of predominantly sequential images taken from the complicated fits exhibited by partial epileptics, full epileptics and hysterioepileptics. The layout of these materials closely reflected the development of “chronophotography” or stop-motion cinematography by Charcot’s major collaborators Albert Londe, Paul Richer, and Étienne-Jules Marey (see Dagognet (1992)). Charcot’s work shared with theatre, dance and cinema not only a fascination with the body in movement. His practice also reflected a more subterranean concern of theatrical performance: that of the body in pain.

Both literal pain and its indirect manifestation through other forms of suffering constituted a basic characteristic of disease. Pain however—like movement—had particular significance for neurology. Pain in and of itself, its autonomous generation within the tissues of the nervous system, marked and helped identify different forms of neuropathology. Pain in this context could represent actual degeneration or harm caused to non-nervous tissues, such as in the paralytic deformations and breaks of the limbs found in the condition which still bears the neurologist’s name, Charcot’s joints. Pain could also, though, be purely neurological, its very existence indicative of dysfunction specifically located within nervous tissue itself. While certain conditions were defined predominantly by a reduction in sensitivity to pain, other disorders were characterised by hyper-sensitivity to pain.

This complicated wax and wane of pain provided one of the key diagnostic issues for the illnesses which Charcot helped to define. This challenge presented by the pathological body was particularly pronounced in the case of hysterioepilepsy. Charcot’s work in the field of hysteria has received exhaustive treatment in the historiography—an emphasis which is not entirely justified by the subject’s place within the neuropathologist’s practice. Hysterioepilepsy was nevertheless one of the most important diseases which Charcot investigated and it was certainly the one which drew the greatest attention from non-medical audiences. Unlike Freud’s later patients, Charcot’s subjects were almost entirely lower class women, many of whom had spent a considerable period of their lives in paid employment before their internment at the Salpêtrière. Although Charcot’s most famous demonstration subjects tended to be younger, more charismatic patients, women forty years and over were nevertheless statistically dominant amongst the hysterical population overall.

Charcot himself saw hysterioepilepsy as an essentially physical illness with secondary psychological symptoms, unlike both the ‘moral therapists’ who proceeded him (such as the Salpêtrière’s Philippe Pinel or Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol) and the psychologists who succeeded him (Freud or Pierre Janet, both of whom studied under Charcot). Charcot’s neologism of hysterioepilepsy reflected this emphasis on physiological attributes, in which the primary diagnostic feature of this disorder was the exhibition of complicated, systematic fitting “la grande attaque de la hystérie.”

Charcot did not, moreover, see any necessary connection between hysterical sexuality or gender and the disease itself. He insisted that hysteria could affect individuals as diverse as elderly female domestics and vigorous young male railway workers. Although unconventional sexual behaviours or delusions were extremely common amongst Charcot’s patients, this was seen by the neurologist as an essentially secondary and somewhat arbitrary symptom of hysterioepileptic psychophysiology (see also Micale (1990: 34 & 1991)).

The hysterical body was, in Charcot’s construction, one profoundly disordered in its performative manifestation of life processes. The neurologist’s interest in the disease was partly prompted by the fact that hysterioepilepsy was resistant to the anatomoclinical method which he had so successfully employed in other contexts. He claimed on more than one occasion that, together with paralysis agitans:

Epilepsy, chorea, hysteria … come to us like so many Sphinxes … [These] symptomatic combinations deprived of anatomical substratum do not present themselves to the mind of the physician with the appearance of solidity, of objectivity, of affections connected with an appreciable organic lesion (1888-1894, vol. 3, p. 15).

Even more than the other diseases which Charcot dealt with, hysterioepilepsy was primarily manifest in movement, in unpredictable spurts of performative dynamism and in the transfer of neuromotor behaviour between nominally distinct body parts.

Charcot’s approach to hysterioepilepsy should not, however, be seen as distinct from the rest of the neuropathologist’s practice. Charcot adapted and extended here the same anatomoclinical procedures which he applied in other contexts. Throughout, Charcot attempted to map in an ever more precise way the physiological behaviours of the living body onto their origins in the palpable structures of the tissues. This applied to almost all areas of psychophysiology. Charcot hoped, for example, to go beyond even Paul Broca in identifying not just the area within the brain which was responsible for language functions (as Broca had done), but also to find those distinct subdivisions which governed the separate comprehension of heard speech, spoken language, and reading and writing (1888-1894, vol. 3, pp. 154-191 & vol. 12, pp. 258-283). In such a fashion, the neurologist hoped to relate everything, from the acquisition of language to the choreography of epilepsy, to their localised sources in the body. The over-riding principle of Charcot’s practice was therefore involving the somatic localisation of that which was, in many cases, paradoxically manifest through movement within the body or through other intangible, mobile characteristics of the organism such as pain.

This partly explains why Charcot retained within his own methodology one of most ancient proofs of Catholic inquisitorial practice: that of the needle test. Even in non-hysterical cases, Charcot frequently applied a needle to the skin or a probe to the soft tissues of mouth, vagina and rectum, in order to map the degree of sensitivity to pain and other stimuli. In the case of hysterioepilepsy however the needle test not only served to help establish the identity of the disorder, but the representational nature of the condition itself.

The Salpêtrière school’s definition of hysterioepilepsy was developed partly for polemical purposes, bolstering the largely positivist, Republican medical profession in countering the influence of Catholicism in both medicine and in public life generally (Goldstein, 1987). Charcot’s senior collaborator, editor and publisher, Désiré Magloire-Bourneville championed the replacement of untrained religious sisters by medically-trained lay professionals at all state-run medical institutions. The Salpêtrière school also challenged the authority of nineteenth century miracle sites, like the relatively new Lourdes—though Charcot himself appears to have tolerated appeals to the faith of devout believers where he felt this could have alleviated otherwise chronic cases (Micale, 1995: 263-279).

Catholic inquisitors had formerly pricked their charges in order to determine the reality or otherwise of the subject’s demonological possession. In an essentially scientific fashion, inquisitors determined that possession was ‘real’—that is to say, attributable to demonic causes—if the subject proved to be impervious to pain or did not bleed. Neither natural causes nor simulation on the part of subject were deemed to be able to generate such responses, which were therefore the product of either demonological or divine forces. Charcot’s use of the needle test in cases of hysterioepilepsy, however, constituted a strategic inversion of the logic of this proof. Charcot and his associates contended that the natural, non-demonological condition of hysterioepilepsy was itself characterised by physiologically ‘real’ anaesthesia. The needle test here functioned not only to discount Catholic doctrine by demonstrating the apparent banality of such allegedly unnatural responses, but also to prove that hysterioepilepsy was itself ‘real’ and not the product of simulation. In both cases, anaesthesia or the absence of pain was used to performatively exhibit an absence of simulation or performative falsehood. Pain in the neuropathological body could therefore both demonstrate representational reality (fitting, general symptoms, etc) and unreality (imperfect simulation of anaesthesia).

Hysterioepilepsy thus constituted an intensification or heightening of Charcot’s general demonstrative and diagnostic principles. Charcot conceded that such “Sphinx”-like diseases as hysteria remained problematic within the materialist medical nosology which he had developed because of the lack of any clearly identifiable causative lesion with which disease behaviour could be associated. The neurologist nevertheless insisted that eventually the specific, somatic dysfunction of the tissues responsible would be identified in each case. Charcot was indeed confirmed in his assumptions in several instances during the years following his death.

In the meantime, Charcot deductively applied those definitive neurophysiological associations, which had already been made to such other situations as hysterioepilepsy, the latter having so far appeared devoid of determinate postmortem clinical signs. The ‘reality’ of such conditions was therefore both problematic and conditional, as they lacked the fixed, incontrovertible evidence of postmortem signs which had become the standard of nosological authority during the late nineteenth century. Charcot indeed described hysterioepilepsy as “that great simulator,” noting that an appropriate alternate title for the disease was “neuromimesis” (1888-1894, vol. 13, p. 489 & vol. 3, p. 16). Hysterical and other post-traumatic conditions closely resembled many other illnesses caused by substantive neurophysiological damage. In the case of hysterioepilepsy however, this damage was purely functional. Hysterical manifestations of paralysis, for example, was typically caused by a “localised shock. Most often, the contusion … provokes the idea” and the sensation ”of heaviness, of powerlessness, sometimes [of] the absence of the limb as well” (1888-1894, vol. 12, p. 383).

Hysterioepilepsy was therefore functionally equivalent to hypnotic suggestion. Indeed, Charcot and his associates contended that only those predisposed to hysteria could in fact be hypnotised. Hysterioepilepsy as a disease was therefore inextricably associated with art and representation, the hysterical neurophysiology functioning as a fleshy machine for the generation of deceptive representations and performances of other, somatic illnesses. Charcot claimed, for example, that the neurophysiological hyper-responsiveness of lethargy meant that it “became possible” for him “to experimentally intervene in cases of this type,” creating “in all its simplicity, the machine man dreamed of by la Mettrie, which we [now] have before our eyes” (1888-1894, vol. 3, pp. 336-337). External manual or electrical stimulation of the muscles and tendons of such subjects enabled Charcot and his assistants to generate various “plastic poses” in their demonstrations (1888-1894, vol. 9, p. 399). Through such techniques, Charcot could produce at will performances of experimental paralyses in hysterioepileptic hypnotic subjects, whose symptoms he could then remove with a counter-suggestion. He opined on one occasion, for example, that hysterics had both “the taste and the aptitude for simulation” (1888-1894, vol. 9, p. 224).

Charcot’s clinical lectures thus consisted of a wealth of differential diagnoses in which the neuropathologist isolated the original organic illness which had caused this underlying degenerative physiology to become manifest. Summarising the Salpêtrière school’s characterisation of hysterioepilepsy, Paul Richer described hysteria as a veritable:

“Proteus which presents itself in a thousand forms and which we cannot seize in one of these [patients]”; a heterogeneous illness, composed of phenomena which are bizarre, incoherent, always changing, [and which are] as a result, inaccessible, to analysis and which cannot ever be subjected to methodical investigation (1881: vii).

The needle test was one of the main ways of making sense of such otherwise apparently “bizarre, incoherent” and “always changing” symptoms. Pricking the patient enabled one to distinguish between normal somatic illnesses and their hysterical simulacra, by charting the sensitivity of subject, and hence the relationship of the pathological sensorium to the distribution and function of the nerves within the healthy body. Here, as elsewhere, Charcot insisted that it was impossible that a precise correspondence between anaesthetic symptomatology and nervous anatomy “could be simulated by our patients, who are assuredly ignorant of all the details of myology” and anatomy (1888-1894, vol. 9, p. 286). The specifics of neurological embodiment constituted arcane information known only to those trained in its subtleties.

The Tuesday Lectures, for example, dryly recorded that, during one lecture of 1888, Charcot said: “(To the patient): Give me your left arm. (Using a pin, M. CHARCOT pricks at different points the arm and the hand…).” Charcot followed this performance with another test, explaining to the audience as he did so that: “You see that I am pulling the patient’s finger, even a little brutally perhaps, without her suffering at all [sans qu’elle éprouve rien]…” Turning to his subject, he asked: “What am I doing to you?” She replied: “I feel nothing”” (1888-1894, vol. 12, pp. 225-227). The reality and authority of Charcot’s lecture demonstrations was largely guaranteed by the fact that they unfolded in real time before the audience.

In light of these contradictions enfolded within Charcot’s pedagogic and diagnostic method, one can appreciate the sense of horror, titillation, and wonder which drew such spectators as authors and playwrights Léon and Alphonse Daudet, Paul Arène, Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant and Edmond de Goncourt as well as Hippolyte Taine, Emile Durkheim, Henri Bergson and others—not excluding the many physicians who always comprised the chief, intended audience of Charcot’s performances. Power and pain, diagnosis and implicit sadism, embodiment and psychology, body and spectacle, all danced within the multiple allusions which Charcot’s presentations evoked, often overcoming the own neuropathologist’s attempt to banish such allusions through his systematic framing and his self-conscious use of dry, almost boring scientific language.

For all of Charcot’s laboured attempts to dramaturgically render the victory of materialist science over superstition, mysticism and religion, the melodramatic subject matter of his displays frequently overwhelmed his own cool, rational analytic exegesis. This was particularly true of hysterioepilepsy. By merit of hysteria’s highly various psychological and physical manifestations, the great variety of physical poses within the choreography of fitting which Charcot and Richer endeavoured to fully describe, and the sheer imaginative excess of the hallucinations exhibited by the patients in the final stages of any single attack, hysterioepilepsy became, in the words of Georges Didi-Huberman (1982: 4-5), an illness in which the suffering, pathological body “partakes of the prodigious…it surpasses the imagination, and even ‘all hope’… It is all there,” in these performances, “poses, crises, cries, ‘attitudes passionnelles [passionate attitudes],’ ‘crucifixions,’ ‘ecstasies,’ all the postures of delirium… theatrical qualities of bodies.”

The pained excess and indeterminacy of hysterioepileptic demonstration subjects could be seen, for example, in how they moved rapidly from violent, physical convulsions to beatific hallucinations of intimate, sexual and religious encounters with “a well-loved, imaginary being” (Richer, 1881: 206-207). After observing a young woman shifting with disconcerting speed between such psychophysical states of pain and pleasure, one reporter recorded that the patient “cries hot tears and laughs from time to time: she does not remember any more and she asks what are these pricks and lines which dot her arms” (X, 1885). The prominent female avant-garde poet and mystic, Berthe de Courrière, responded by comparing Charcot’s medical dramatisation of pain to both the violently repressive, inquisitorial Avignonese Pope as well as the Emperor Nero, claiming that Charcot had “invented scientific Sadism” (1893: 144-146), while an author from the radical, feminist La revue scientifique des femmes similarly argued that he practised:

a form of human vivisection upon women under the pretext of studying an illness [hysteria] of which he knows neither the cause nor the treatment … this man placed himself amongst the great misogynists (Reenooz, 1888: 245).

Jules Bois, a sometime feminist advocate and sympathiser of the nineteenth century rationalist mystical movement Spiritism, provided an insightful summary of the multiple forces put into play by the Charcot’s performances at the hospice:

The Salpêtrière seems…to have been above all a wonderful field of experimentation, a sort of theatre where the ancient convulsive dramas of the Middle Ages were played out.
But is there not a profound difference between living, breathing reality and the scenic pretence? Charcot gave us the spectacle of Satanism (1902: 368)

—but perhaps, in the end, that was all. Charcot’s dramaturgical methodology successfully enabled him to represent and describe an impressive array of painful and debilitating neurophysiological conditions. In the final analysis, however, Charcot’s methodical procedure and scientific authority could not remove from such profligate, indeterminate performative illnesses as hysterioepilepsy a degree of representational sadomasochism in their display, rendering the neurologist’s own practice as a dubious series of pathos-filled, coups de théâtre. Little wonder that Antonin Artaud’s former peers, the Surrealists Louis Aragon and André Breton (1928), later called Charcot’s description of hysteria “the greatest poetic discovery of the last part of the nineteenth century.”



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