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Boundaries and Slippages of the Self: Photography and autobiographical fiction in the performance of female fantasy and delusion

This research project brings photography and autofiction together to produce a body of artwork exploring the possibility of rehabilitating forms of ‘hysterical narrative’, as a way of expressing female experience and giving it agency. ‘Hysteria’ has a longstanding relationship with ‘the feminine’ [Hippocrates, Freud, Charcot] and although no longer recognised as a medical condition it remains a useful term for gathering a set of problematics around the marginalisation of women. Feminist theory has worked to challenge the pejorative dismissal of women under the term ‘hysteric’ [Showalter, Hunter, Mitchell] and discusses the potential of feminine ecriture [Cixous], gynocritique [Showalter], ‘the writing cure’ [Herndl] and even advocates ‘hysterical narrative’ as a valid form of protest against patriarchal hierarchies [Dane, Perkins-Gilman, Pappenheim].  

This project recognises the legitimacy of ‘hysterical narrative’ as a mode of resistance yet also its marginalising limitations. The research is premised on the notion that ‘hysterical narrative’ must be overcome, yet sees that this does not need to be accomplished by conforming to normative phallocentric discourse. This research seeks to deploy the forms of ‘hysterical narrative’ in new ways, supporting its potential as poetic feminist agency, whilst moving away from biological gendering and the erroneous medical diagnostics it has been associated with. 

Research has been done on photography as a form of social control [Tagg, Foucault]. The photograph has been exposed for its use in the stereotyping of hysteria [Didi-Huberman, Gilman], yet there is little on how the photograph might subvert stereotypes of the ‘hysteric’. Moving beyond visual depiction this project builds on work by Bourgeois, Kivland, Sherman and Calle to produce a language of interiority in the interplay between photography and writing.

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