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Five— The Image of the Hysteric
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Toward a Theory of "Realistic Representation" in Nineteenth-Century Thought

In my work on Hugh W. Diamond's mid-nineteenth-century introduction of photography into the treatment of the mentally ill, I was struck by the fact that Diamond believed he could cure at least some of his patients by exposing them to photographs of themselves. The "realism"


Hugh W. Diamond, a portrait of a case of "religious 
(London: Royal Society of Medicine.)

of the photograph was assumed to have a therapeutic function because of its mode of representation. Such a view underlined the importance of all images for the alienists of the nineteenth century. Thus there was a constant striving for verisimilitude, not only for nosological purposes (that is, in order to categorize the illness) but also for therapeutic reasons. Seeing one's own difference provided the "healthy" aspect of the mind with the juxtaposition between the "normal" and the "abnormal." The desire to see the absolute border between these states encouraged the nineteenth-century scientist to seek out and "see" the difference. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it (paraphrasing Claude Bernard): "It is the


value of all morbid states that they show us under a magnifying glass certain states that are normal—but not easily visible when normal."[23] Disease itself is seen as a means of "seeing" the normal. And normality is an unself-conscious state like that of observers, who are never aware of that role until they self-consciously begin to think of themselves as observers through their training as "scientists" and, therefore, become aware of the meaning attached to the act of seeing.

But it was only with the introduction of the photograph that the power of such contrast—for the patient—was clearly articulated. Diamond stated in his 1856 paper "On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity," read before the Royal Society, that "there is another point of view in which the value of portraits of the insane is peculiarly marked—viz. in the effect which they produce upon the patients themselves—I have had many opportunities of witnessing this effect—In very many cases they are examined with much pleasure and interest, but more particularly in those which mark the progress and cure of a severe attack of Mental Aberration."[24]

Diamond's course of treatment was straightforward. He presented his patients with images of themselves that seemed to startle them into an awareness of their madness, because of the radically realistic image of them as demented. Through this confrontation with a "realistic" image of their insane physiognomy, they began to realize their own altered perception of reality. In his talk, he presented the case of "A. D., aged 20," whose "delusions consisted in the supposed possession of great wealth and of an exalted station as a queen."[25] He photographed her. Her reaction to the images she saw reflected the "startle" effect inherent in the newness of the medium of photography: "Her subsequent amusement in seeing the portraits [of herself in various stages of her illness] and her frequent conversation about them was the first decided step in her gradual improvement, and about four months ago she was discharged perfectly cured, and laughed heartily at her former imaginations."[26] If we can extend Diamond's argument, we can suppose that the nineteenth-century alienist saw the patient-observer as sharing the implication of the photographic image, the startle effect that accompanied the introduction of this new medium of representation.

In further work on the use of photography as a means of psychotherapy, I discovered that other alienists of the period, such as Sir William Charles Hood, the director of the Bethlem Asylum, undertook similar applications of photography. I initially extrapolated certain broader generalities about the reaction to the photograph by the first generation to see photographs after their invention in 1839. (This first period oc-


curred a full decade later in Great Britain than in the rest of Europe because both Daguerre's and Fox Talbot's methods of fixing images were under patent during the 1840s only in Great Britain. In the rest of Europe, the daguerreotype at least was in the public domain by the early 1840s.) I believed that the earliest photographs were such a radical mode of representing the reality of the self as different that they had some type of psychological shock effect. That is, they so disoriented patients as to where the already distorted line between what is real or unreal lay, that patients were forced to reexamine their own psychological confusions. I was convinced, however, that it was the perception of the self, the image of the self as the mad person, which caused the "startle" effect.[27] And that was the radical difference of the photograph, as perceived by those in this first generation to see photographs.

George S. Layne, in an essay in 1981, contradicted this finding, while still supporting my sense of the radical break with existing models of perception.[28] He uncovered the fact that the brothers William and Frederick Langenheim provided lantern slides for the "moral" treatment of the patients in the Philadelphia Hospital for the Insane a year before (1851) Diamond exposed his patients to their own images in the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum. But the Langenheim images were not of the patients, but rather were general images such as landscapes and street scenes, yet they had shock value in treating the patients. So it seemed to be not the image of the self but the radical newness of the medium that caused the "startle" effect.

One of the reasons that the "startle" effect was so pronounced as to be useful in therapy in the public asylums was that the working-class inmates of the asylums did not share the bourgeois and upper-class tradition of seeing and understanding visual objects which had developed out of the "realistic" philosophy of Enlightenment art. Even prints and engravings, understood as aesthetic objects, had been, for the most part, out of the financial reach of the proletariat. Theirs was a world with limited access to images—the absence of cheap illustrated newspapers (soon to appear in Great Britain in the middle-class form of the Graphic and the Illustrated London News ) meant that their world of images was the crude broadside with its lithographed (or indeed woodcut) image. But the middle and upper classes had a tradition of seeing and speaking about art, at least in terms of the reproduction of the work of art as engravings (such as the Broulliet and Moreau de Tours images). For them, even if the "startle" effect occurred (or perhaps because it occurred), the objects recorded were understood in terms of a historical continuity of perceiving aesthetic images. And, indeed, the entire history


of early photography is full of references to the continuity of the photograph with earlier modes of representation. A letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning as late as 1843 reflects both the "startle" effect and the language in which it was articulated:

My dearest Miss Mitford, do you know anything about that wonderful invention of the day, called the Daguerreotype?—that is, have you seen any portraits produced by means of it? Think of a man sitting down in the sun and leaving his facsimile in all its full completion of outline and shadow, steadfast on a plate, at the end of a minute and a half! The Mesmeric disembodiment of spirits strikes one as a degree less marvellous. And several of these wonderful portraits . . . like engravings—only exquisite and delicate beyond the work of the engraver—have I seen lately—longing to have such a memorial of every Being dear to me in the world. It is not merely the likeness which is precious in such cases—but the association, and the sense of nearness involved in the thing . . . the fact of the very shadow of the person lying there fixed for ever! It is the very sanctification of portraits I think and it is not at all monstrous in me to say what my brothers cry out against so vehemently . . . that I would rather have such a memorial of one I dearly loved, than the noblest Artist's work ever produced.[29]

Such photographic images were perceived as a clear continuation of other, older means of the reproduction of images. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's vocabulary is initially taken from that of one of the fine arts, engraving. She is startled by the perceived realism of the image, but she places it within the Victorian model of progress in the reproduction of visual images. The photograph seems to her to be "exquisite and delicate beyond the work of the engraver." And yet her perception of this new medium is such that it draws on the science of the day, mesmerism, with its own "startle" effect, as its initial analogy. And, indeed, the "art" of engraving is the most highly mechanical of all the fine arts of the period. These associations, first between the various modes of creating and reproducing images, and then between the aesthetic and the scientific, dominate the discourse of the first generation to view photographs.

Alexander von Humboldt, in a letter dated 7 January 1839 to the Duchess Friederike von Anhalt-Dessau, stresses this admixture: "Objects that express themselves in inimitable fidelity, light fixed by the art of chemistry to leave enduring traces within a few minutes and to circumscribe clearly even the most delicate parts of contours—to see all of this magic (admittedly without color) . . . certainly speaks incontrovertibly for reason and the power of imagination."[30] The mix of the language of science and the language of art is clear here with Humboldt's


perception of the photograph as the product of a science rooted in the imagination, but producing aesthetic objects (which he sees as flawed in part because of their colorlessness). Edgar Allan Poe, in one of his 1840 essays on the daguerreotype, makes many of the same verbal associations.[31] Thus the articulation of the "startle" effect in the middle and upper classes points to a confusion in the vocabulary in which this effect was to be addressed: Is it a continuation of the older forms of representation (and therefore to be considered "art") or is it a new and different mode of representation (and therefore to be considered "science")? What all were agreed upon in that first generation was that the images were "real." It was that "realism," prefigured by the aesthetic theory of the Enlightenment, which framed the perception of the photograph and which provided the vocabulary in which the "startle" effect was articulated. The presence of the "startle" effect would seem to be a universal among those individuals exposed to the first photographs. It is no surprise that the first photographer-physicians, such as Hugh Diamond, who incorporated the "image" within their mode of treatment, were also constrained to see (and to know) the photograph in terms of its "startle" effect.

It is with the general understanding of the function of the photograph that the aesthetic tradition of representing the mentally ill begins to be submerged and there evolves a sense of collaboration—already implicit in the meaning given to the realism of the photograph by doctor and patient alike—about the educative function of images. But it is in the different function of images of the patient and images of the physician that the application of this problem in the history of seeing is to be found. For with the craze for the carte-de-visite, which began in the 1850s, all gentlemen and gentlewomen had to have their pictures taken. Indeed, as I have argued elsewhere, the very absence of photographs of those who understood themselves to be part of the world of society is an interpretable fact.[32] How very different for those whose images are taken from them, the mentally ill, the criminal, the maimed. For their images do not grace the storefronts of the photographers; their images become ersatz representations of the nosology that they represent. These "real" images, these images that startle, are images of the disease and not of the patient. And again it is the movement from the aesthetic to the real, from the artistic to the therapeutic, from the image of the patient to the definition of the patient's reality that lies at the center of this world of images. The image is the essence of the patient, it gives the patient form. The patient, or at least the presentation of the patient, quickly becomes the creation of the physician's sense of the cor-


rectness of the patient's disease. With the hysteric, the very nature of the illness provides for the patient a demand for the forming touch of the authority, for the control implicit in the worldview that generates "real" images. For hysteria is the classic disease of the imagination—not of the uterus—as Charcot (and then Freud[33] ) understood. But the shaping of the imagination through the "realism" of the photograph lies behind the pilferage described in Gamgee's account of the Salpêtrière incident. For can we imagine that the patient in the Salpêtrière is stealing back her identity, her sense of self, in removing the image of the hysteric from the grasp of the physicians?

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