Nicholas R. Nelson

The growing website of composer and technologist Nicholas R. Nelson

The Attitudes Passionnelles of the Iconographis Photographique de la Salpêtrière

"A different class of nervous patient thronged the wards of one of the great Paris hospitals for the poor. Here the self-described Napoleon of the Neuroses, Jean-Martin Charcot, had built his career by distinguishing a variety of awful neurological afflictions, from disseminated multiple sclerosis; aphasia; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known to most Americans as Lou Gehrig’s disease); Tourette’s syndrome, chorea; locomotor ataxia (a complication of tertiary syphilis, as would become apparent in the early twentieth century); and so on. But what later drew his attention was one of the great epidemic diseases of the age, a disorder that has now disappeared from the psychiatric lexicon: hysteria. Weekly, in an amphitheater in front of tout Paris, he hypnotized a parade of scantily clad young women, many of them repeat performers. The patients staged (and that is the appropriate word), the various stages of a hysterical fit: the seizures and the impossible bodily contortions of course, but more entertainingly still, the attitudes passionelles, the emotional gestures, cries and whispers that displayed unmistakably erotic overtones. And then they were re-hypnotized in private, so that they could hold their poses for the primitive cameras of the age, thus allowing their images to be reproduced and shown to a still larger virtual audience in the volumes of the Iconographis Photographique de la Salpêtrière."

—Andrew Scull, The Paris Review, April 22, 2015