Your browser version is outdated. We recommend that you update your browser to the latest version.




Jenny Woods


Hysteric Desire Sanctioned at the Border(line)

                                                “this twitching red muscle

that is my mouth” (Sexton, 1981)


“I must admit that the unconscious that I have to concern myself with at the theoretical level is also the personified unconscious of analyst’s resistances. In fact, every post-Freudian development (in the chronological sense of the term) in psychoanalysis is the consequence of a major rejection of the unconscious” (Lacan quoted in Fink, 2007, p 260)


Throughout written history hysteric desire and hysteric suffering seem to be present, in one form or other. For example, the Kahun Papyrus (an Egyptian medical text circa 1800 BCE), sometimes named the gynaecological papyrus, speaks of a complex of symptoms specific to women reportedly caused by a wandering of the womb. Hippocrates, a Greek physician of the 5th century BCE is the first to use the term hysteria for this suffering (Jouanna, 2012; Sigerist, 1961, 1967). The symptoms described in these texts with variations evolving across the decades and centuries, are surprisingly akin to the physical and emotional sufferings of the hysteric in today’s clinic. What appears as the common thread from the Kahun papyrus to the present Lacanian clinic is that hysteria is a sexual complaint and moreover hysteria poses a sexual question (Grose, 2016; Rodriguez, 2016). What seems to reflect the Kahun Papyrus in the present Lacanian clinic is how the hysteric complaint is understood as a sexual complaint. This means a complaint concerning a phenomenological sexual stain and the relationship of this stain with the question of desire.

Much has been written about the disappearance of the diagnosis of hysteria from the DSM[1], the diagnostic ‘bible’ of the behavioural medical models of psychology. In this paper, I consider the tensions around hysteric desire and how the question the hysteric poses to the Other is silenced in the ‘relational’ psychotherapies through being siphoned into borderline (and other) diagnoses. 

[1] Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.