The Hysteric as Conceptual Operator

An Exploration of the European–American Interactions in the Hysteric’s Performance and its transferences onto the Twenty-First Century (2018–2020) Project [J 4164-G24]. Funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) as part of the Erwin Schrödinger Fellowship programme and conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles; Stanford University; and University of Vienna.
Principal Investigator: Dr. Johanna Braun.


While in Paris and Vienna around 1900, the hysterical girl was a well-studied object in arts and sciences, she re-appeared, a hundred years later, in countless manifestations in US mainstream horror films. The female hysteric in these current narratives references strikingly established representations of the hysteric as (public) performer that go back well beyond the European studies of the nineteenth century. It is interesting that while in 1994 the medical term hysteria was struck from the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it simultaneously reappeared as Histrionic Personality Disorder (Latin: histrio, actor/actress). This rebranding just further underlines my point: the female hysteric is therefore diagnosed as performer. Given this reintroduction, one may assume that the self-reflective media figure of the female hysteric will continue to gain ground in its cultural impact.

Although the history and evolution of the representation of hysteria have been extensively researched (Veith 1965, Gilman 1982, Shorter 1986, Micale 1995, Showalter 1997, Didi-Huberman 2003, Skull 2009, Cross 2010, Hustvedt 2011), the study of how these discourses have been transferred to twenty-first-century US popular culture is still uncharted territory. My project’s main focus is the way in which the current popular figure intervenes, gets involved in and performs individual sociopolitical discourse strands. Therefore my project is located on the intersection of hysteria, cultural, (American) horror film and performance studies.
While building on feminist horror film scholarship (Creed 1993, Clover 1993) this project is advocating for an expansion of the theoretical “toolbox” in analyzing women in horror film. Michel Foucault’s discourse analysis provides me with the necessary critical tools to analyze the hysteric’s performance from the twin perspectives of cultural studies and philosophy. Specific discourse strains will furthermore be analyzed using the necessary theoretical equipment (e.g. of gender, post-colonial, disabilities studies).

Furthermore, as a result of performance studies being a paradigm-driven field, my project is divided into two research stages: During the first phase, I will follow the hysteric’s performance as object of inquiry. In the course of a classic film methodology of close analysis, I will analyze the diverse discourse strands of the current representation from a cultural studies perspective and will be able to put the current phenomenon in its (historical) context. In the second phase, I will expand my research scope and focus on performance studies as a primary analytical concept. The emerging field of Performance Philosophy will provide my project with the necessary philosophical tools to analyze in-depth the hysteric’s performance.


// Output

#masshysteria. Hysteria, Politics, and Performance Strategies
Event series at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

keynote speaker: Elaine Showalter (Emeritus Professor of English, Princeton University)
Thursday, November 1. 2018 / 9.30am–5.30pm / UCLA Royce Hall (Room 306)

Guest Lecture and Panel Discussion with Jack Halberstam (Columbia University)
Monday, November 5. 2018 / 2.30–3.30pm / 10383 UCLA Bunche Hall

Guest Lecture and Panel Discussion with Sander L. Gilman (Emory University)
Friday, November 16. 2018 / 2–3pm / 10383 UCLA Bunche Hall


Event series at Stanford University, TBA


Public Speaking Engagements

2020    “Bending Over Backwards. Hysterical Performances - Performance workshop with Johanna Braun”, Kunstraum Niederösterreich, Vienna - online (16.05.2020)

2019    “Bertha Pappenheim. Ein Erinnerungsspaziergang mit Johanna Braun und Elke Krasny”, hosted by JMW – Jewish Museum Vienna. (31.10.2019)

2019    “Alienation Effects. Performance and Self-Management in Yugoslavia, 1945-91”, book presentation and discussion with Branislav Jakovljević (Theatre & Performance Studies, Stanford University). Department for Theatre-, Film and Media Studies, Vienna (UZA II – Rotunde Room 2H467), co-hosted by the Department for Slavonic Studies (Senad Halilbašić/Miranda Jakiša), the Department for Theatre-, Film and Media Studies (Stefan Hulfeld) and the Department of Philosophy (Johanna Braun). (5. 11 2019)

2019    “Fighting Theories - Desire Boxes”, performative lecture, GLOBART Festival, Essl Museum, Austria; with Arno Böhler, Susanne Valerie Granzer, and Lea Susemichel. (12.10.2019)

2019    “Stone Puppets: Monuments in the Hands of the Living and the Dead”, artist lecture by Brian Getnick. As part of Micha Ullman’s exhibition “Spur and Präsenz”, entré – raum für experimentelle bildtheorie / driendl*architects, Vienna (01.08.2019). initiated and moderated by Johanna Braun. (01.08.2019)

2019    “The Elasticity of a Concept: On Hysterical Performances”, paper in the panel of the same name at PSi #25, the Performance Studies international conference, at the School of Creative and Performing Arts University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Presenter and moderator. (04.07.2019)

2019    “Parrhesian Intervention”, Performance participation with Elisabeth Schäfer, in Arno Böhler's Arts-based Philosophy Performance at “Oskar nimmt Platz”-Festival, University of Applied Arts Vienna. (25.06.2019)

2019    “Hysterical Hystories”, Performance Lecture. PAM, Los Angeles (24.04.2019)

2019    “Till Sick for Good. On the Hysteric Utterance of Speechlessness”, lecture at the Conference of the Society of Artistic Research, SAR10, Zurich University of the Arts (22.03.2019)

2019    Johanna Braun and Katharina Brandl. joint lecture in the lecture series Memento Mori and Vanitas at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. (26.02.2019)

2018    “Public Feminisms Forum. Collectively: Thinking, Speaking, Writing”, Workshop Contributor. In the framework of Movements in Feminism / Feminisms in Movement: Urgencies, Emergencies, Promises. Public Program at Belvedere 21 (Vienna, 01.12.2018). Curated by Elke Krasny (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna) and Luisa Ziaja (Belvedere, Vienna); together with Lara Perry (University of Brighton) and Dorothee Richter (ZHdK / University of Reading / Zurich University of the Arts).

2018 Johanna Braun. "Bending over Backwards. Hysteric Utterance, Politics and Performance Strategies", at the conference #masshysteria. Hysteria, Politics, and Performance Strategies at Royce Hall #306. (University of California, Los Angeles; 01.11.2018)

2018 Johanna Braun. "Witchcraft Hysteria. Performing witchcraft in contemporary art and pop culture", a public lecture with Katharina Brandl (University of Basel, Switzerland), followed by a panel discussion with artist and magical practitioner Amanda Yates Garcia at University of California, Los Angeles. (Bunche Hall, Center for European and Russian Studies, 16.07.2018)

2018 Johanna Braun. "Guest Lecture/Artist Talk". In the seminar: Bewitched. Hexenkulturen in der Gegenwartskunst (engl. Bewitched. Witchcraft and contemporary art). (ZHdK, Zurich University of the Arts; 18.05.2018)

2018 Johanna Braun. "Unruly: Hysteria". Panel discussion with the Association of Hysteric Curators. Moderated by Johanna Braun. (Tiger Strikes Asteroid Los Angeles Gallery, 10.06.2018)

2018 Johanna Braun. "Charmed Witchcraft Mass Hysteria". Performance. In the exhibition Magic Circle, curated by Katharina Brandl and Daniela Brugger (Kunstraum Niederösterreich, Vienna; 22.03.2018)

2018 "Spelling It Like It Is. Magic Spells for Feminists". Performance workshop with Johanna Braun and Katharina Brandl. (Rrriot Festival, Vienna; 02.03. 2018)

2018 Johanna Braun. "The Final Girls. Exploring the Intersections of Horror and Feminism". Gartenbaukino x Rrriot Festival. Discussion panel with Olivia Howe (co-founder The Final Girls) and Wiktoria Pelzer (Gartenbaukino). (Gartenbaukino, Vienna; 02.03. 2018)



2020    Johanna Braun. “Hysterical Cure. Performing Disability in the Possession Film”. In: Johanna Braun (Ed). Performing Hysteria. Contemporary Images And Imaginations Of Hysteria. Leuven/Cornell University Press, 2019. (forthcoming in fall 2020)

2018 Johanna Braun. "Unterwegs: Palmen, Meer und die Angst vor Massenhysterie". Scilog. Vienna, October 2018. Open Access Journal of the Austrian Science Fund.

2018 Johanna Braun. "Beyond Your Wildest Screams. Haunted by American Dreams", In: Thomas Ballhausen, Christa Tuczay (Ed). Traumnarrative. Motivische Muster – Erzählerische Traditionen – Medienübergreifende Perspektiven. Vienna: Praesens Verlag, 2018.

2018 Johanna Braun. "Witchcraft Hysteria. Die Heimsuchung der Salemer Gerichtsverfahren in aktuellen öffentlichen Debatten in den Vereinigten Staaten." (engl. "Witchcraft Hysteria. The Haunting of the Salem Trails in contemporary public debates in the United States"). FemWiss Journal – Swiss Association of Feminist Studies, Bern, 2018.

2018 Johanna Braun. "Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live (On Mass Hysteria I)", In: Katharina Brandl, Daniela Brugger, Christiane Krejs (Eds). Magic Cirlce. Vienna: Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2018: 40–41. (Exhibition Catalogue)