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Issak, J.A. (1991). “What's love got to do, got to do with it?”: Woman as the Glitch in the Postmodernist Record. Am. Imago, 48(3):351-380.

(1991). American Imago, 48(3):351-380

“What's love got to do, got to do with it?”: Woman as the Glitch in the Postmodernist Record

Jo Anna Issak

Much as “the woman question” preoccupied social and political theorists of the late nineteenth century when the emancipation of women and the feminine in general was identified as a threat to bourgeois stability, “the question of woman” has become a motif in the discourse of postmodernism. The question has returned like a glitch in the record causing a “repeat” in the discursive practice. The “repeat” centers around the discussion of hysteria which has returned, not as the subject of a medical discourse, but appropriately for postmodernism, as a question of representation. Hysteria, an invisible pathology which gained “presence” through the work of Charcot, has now become a simulacrum. Fashion models, dressed in Comme Des Garçons clothing which provide for atrophied appendages, adopt Charcot's attitudes passionelles. Anorexia, bulimia and cosmetic body cutting have lent new meaning to the term, “fashion victim.” Tina Turner, with disheveled hair and shredded clothing, goes through all the unmotivated gyrations of the grande attaque hystérique— posing the question “what's love go to do with it?”

The question of woman which recurs in the discussion of postmodernism is not the same as “the woman question” of the nineteenth century in which women's right to representation was at issue, instead the issue is the representation of woman. This chiasmus is more than rhetorical; the inversion, the eliding of the historical and social content of this narrative is exactly what I wish to examine. Just why it was that in the essays on hysteria, the canonical texts of psychoanalysis, written during a period of growing activity on the part of the women's suffrage movement, the possibility that hysteria may have social or political origins did not enter into the analytic reading.

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