The Epistemic Lives of Pictures and Visualisations
Edited By Nora S. Vaage, Rasmus T. Slaattelid, Trine Krigsvoll Haagensen and Samantha L. Smith
Framing the Hysterical Body – A comparative analysis of a historical and a contemporary approach to imaging functional leg paralysis (Paula Muhr)
Paula Muhr Framing the Hysterical Body – A comparative analysis of a historical and a contemporary approach to imaging functional leg paralysis During its several millennia long history, hysteria has consistently represented an essentially unresolvable medical mystery.1 It is characterised by a panoply of heterogeneous symptoms, including but not limited to paralyses, anaesthesia, tremors, contractures, seizures, disturbances of vision, loss of speech and memory, and pain. In most cases, a single patient displays a variety of symptoms, which can either occur simultaneously, or in a temporal succession. No undisputed organic cause has ever been established for any of the registered symptoms. For this rea- son, over the centuries, hysteria’s existence has been repeatedly called into ques- tion, either by accusing medical authorities of inventing it as a diagnostic entity, or patients of simulating their symptoms. Those medical practitioners who viewed hysteria as a genuine illness endeav- oured to establish its origin. The earliest etiological theories, which gave hysteria its name, postulated the cause of the disease in the uterus, thus declaring it a purely female disorder.2 Subsequent approaches, which started appearing in the seven- teenth century, gradually shifted the etiological focus to other anatomical systems – such as the nerves, or specific cortical structures – or to purely psychological mechanisms.3 The latter were understood either in terms of patients’ hereditary emotional make-up, or as subconscious reactions to traumatic experiences and internal conflicts. Significantly, these approaches, which did not attribute the ori- gin of the disorder to the female reproductive organ, opened up the...
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