Responsive Textabation #6 – female hysteria and theatrical realism

Realism’s putative (commonly regarded) object, the truthful representation of social experience within a recognizable, usually contemporary, moment, remains a problematic issue for feminism, not least because theatrical realism, rooted in domestic melodrama, retains the oedipal family focus even as ….

—Elin Diamond, “Realism and Hysteria: Toward a Feminist Mimesis,” Discourse, Special Issue on the Emotions, 13, no. 1 (1990-91): pg. 60. 

This quote immediately follows Elin Diamond’s declaration of two arguments on which the essay hinges. In both statements, she links realism, the theatrical, the feminine (and theory), hysteria and “truth to life.” Each of these connections in her arguments and the entirety of the essay continually spring from and return to the notion of realism. In the above quote, Elin begins a several paragraph long framing of what she means by realism and establishes its relationship to the theatrical representation of life, feminism, Freud, and such. This is a necessary move for the reader to understand how she is using realism as Elin unpacks how these notions are expressed, confounded, and reacted to primarily in the plays of Hedda Gabler (1890) and Alan’s Wife (1893).

It appears from this semester’s readings that this framing of terms within the context of the essay’s argument is a common and functional move the author establishes early. I haven’t quite got this move down in terms of smooth integration yet but am getting there. For me the most interesting portion of her essay was not the unpacking of the plays as premisatorial (made up word) examples but the establishment of realism, hysteria, links to Freud and the theatrical. This was fascinating because it can be transferred and overlaid on other topics. I’ve found this to be true in most the essays that apply theory to particulars–it is the defining structure of the terms and theories within the context of the author’s essays that are infinitely transferable and the specifics are, well, just specific and less useful (for me).

 —-Kathy’s usual blather—-

It seemed Elin worked extensively and clearly around her two declaratives statements (thesis) but never directly linked the premisatorial examples back to the definitives. She has probably established premises that can lead us to these by inference especially for someone working in her domain, perhaps it is obvious. But to the newly immersed, I am not seeing a logical connected conclusion in terms of her initial claims. For example, how does “Realism’s putative object” “remain … a problematic issue for feminism”? Has she established a) how this is problematic for feminism (inferred yes, but established) b) how does it remain problematic (I assume she means currently problematic; again I can sort of get there on my own, but has she established how it is still problematic)? The apparent lack of clear establishment of premisatorial linkage to her argument may also reside in my reading with a full, spilling over and tired brain, and that I simply gloss over support that actually exists in the essay. I am not trying to beat on Elin but am trying to see what works and doesn’t for a reader so that I can adjust my own authorial practice with this beast called scholarly writing.

 —inappropriately personal correlations—

The former unit, unconsciously embraced and expressed this mimesis of the female character (discussed in Elin’s essay) subtly but definitively as real and applicable to past and contemporary female counterparts. Not noted as fault but simply a residual indoctrination from a systemic ancestral heritage of diagnosable crazy-making linked with the familial female. Not a fault in the same way a blemish on the surface of a mirror is not the fault of the mirror but instead an artifact of its production. None the less, hysteria and any expression of strong emotion was irrevocable linked and a common source of undercurrents of anxiety visibly expressed within the structure of the familial. Shame, spank, inappropriate correlation to pen, perhaps, but none the less a twenty three year framework of my lived reality. The label of female hysteria upon the expression of emotions is a habit not fully my own and I am still trying to shake its cling from my heels. When under mental load, commonly called stress (i.e. like the first semester of adjusting to PhD load and adapting to academic reading and writing), I unnecessarily re-edit (ruminate?) my history in terms of new mental frameworks. A coping mechanism, I am sure and a fault/blemish I claim as my own.


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