Foucault 4/13 | Linda Zerilli on the Hysteric, Disciplinary Power, and Resistance

By Linda Zerilli

At the seminar on Psychiatric Power, I plan to focus my remarks on this question: what does the figure of the hysteric do for Foucault’s (emergent) theory of disciplinary power? I will be looking at the way in which power is figured as tactical, as involving “networks, currents, relays, points of support, differences of potential,” and how this gets played out in the relationship between hysterics and their doctors. My analysis will be aimed at the kind of resistance that Foucault finds in hysterics and especially the simulation that he argues to be the historical problem of psychiatry and the ultimate failure of psychiatry. Part of what I want to get at here is the question of whether the dependence of the doctor on the hysteric and the hysteric on the doctor, the relations of reciprocity, so to speak, are really ones that allow new practices of resistance to power to emerge.

In other words, I think that these lectures, Psychiatric Power, point forward to his later work, where he explicitly argues for the “capacity to act otherwise.” Although in the mid-1970s Foucault was thinking more in terms of subjects who reproduce the discourses by which they are constituted, he find in the hysteric something like the opening to this capacity. There is, in effect, a relation but also a difference between thinking about the panopticon as the figure of disciplinary power and thinking of the hysteric.

That said, the capacity to act differently, which he will later tie to critique and to what it means to be governed “like this, not like that,” presupposes certain intersubjective relations between subjects that I would like to question. It tends to secure freedom at an ontological level. Can we, at this level, think of resistance and freedom politically? Can we posit what Castoriadis calls “figures of the newly thinkable”? If the hysteric is in a game of tactics, can s/he actually start a different (language) game? And what might that look like without jumping over one’s own shadow and unlearning all Foucault teaches us here and elsewhere about power?