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Symptom and sign: Janet, Freud, Eliot, and the literary mandate of laughter.

In 1906, T. S. Eliot's freshman year at Harvard, Pierre Janet was invited to give a sequence of lectures to celebrate the opening of Harvard's new medical building. Janet, probably the most famous medical celebrity at that time, the successor to Jean-Martin Charcot at Paris's Salpetriere, gave a sequence of fifteen lectures on the celebrated topic that drew Harvard's invitation, lectures that were published the following year as The Major Symptoms of Hysteria. In 1909, Eliot's senior year at Harvard, the emerging medical celebrity Sigmund Freud, whose fame was eclipsing Janet's, was invited to give a sequence of lectures at nearby Clark University in Worchester, Massachusetts, and these lectures were also published the following year, both in English and in German ("Five Lectures"). Freud's first three lectures, naturally, were devoted to the disorder that had created psychoanalysis and contributed to Freud's growing fame--hysteria--and to delineating the similarities and differences between Parisian and Viennese hysteria. Although Eliot almost certainly did not attend either series of lectures (though many Harvard professors did, including William James, a friend of Janet's and well known to Freud [Ellenberger; Gay 211]), he did read other texts by Janet, including Neuroses et idees fixes and Obsession et psychasthenie, which are listed with annotations on his reading list of 1908 to 1914 (Gordon 538); and Freud's notoriety was widespread among the Massachusetts intelligentsia. More important for Eliot's early emergence as a poet was his keen awareness, since his discovery of Arthur Symon's The Symbolist Movement in Literature in December 1908, of the intertwining of hysteria and literature, the symptom and the sign, in Parisian medical and literary cultures. (1) This awareness drew him to Paris in his postundergraduate year abroad, 1910 to 1911, when he completed his first major suite of poems, "Rhapsody on a Windy Night," "Preludes," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and "Portrait of a Lady," (2) which are often called the vigil poems or Harvard masterpieces.

My contention in this essay is that Eliot's emergence or self-creation as a poet, his discovery of his mandate, came about through an intentional act of literary and cultural mimicry, through a transformation of the repetitions of the hysterical symptom into particular repetitions in his use of the literary sign. Ever since Baudelaire's famous review of Flaubert's Madame Bovary in 1857, the hysterical symptom had been identified as the potential generative core of a literary work. Baudelaire wrote:
  The Academy of Medicine has not as yet been able to explain the
  mysterious condition of hysteria. In women, it acts like a stifling
  ball rising in the body (I mention only the main symptom), while in
  nervous men it can be the cause of many forms of impotence as well as
  of a limitless ability at excess. Why could this physiological
  mystery not serve as the central subject, the true core, of a
  literary work? (341)

Even Janet in 1906 must cite this "main symptom," the boule or ball rising from the hystera or uterus to the throat:
  You remember the absurd story invented by Plato, which spread all
  over the world, obnubilating the minds of physicians for centuries,
  and casting a kind of shame on patients. It was, he said, the
  overexcited matrix which required satisfaction, and as this
  satisfaction was not obtained, it ascended through the body as far as
  the throat of the patients and choked them. In fact, this sensation
  of uneasiness, which often begins in the lower part of the abdomen,
  seems to ascend and to spread to other organs. (98)

In Eliot's prose poem "Hysteria," written in the spring of 1915, likely the last poem he would complete for his first volume, Prufrock and Other Observations, published in June 1917, the poet persona is inhaled into the throat of a woman in the inhalations punctuating and enabling the exhalations of her hysterical laughter. This symptom of hysterical laughter, a symptom discussed at length by Janet, as we shall see below, is the clearest manifestation of Eliot's transformation of the hysterical symptom into the literary sign, and has long been addressed as such by criticism (see Li). My argument here is that this poem and its symptom must be set in the context of the other poems of Eliot's first volume, especially the poem with which it is paired, "Mr. Apollinax," with the title character's hysterical laughter and his "limitless ability at excess," to use Baudelaire's phrase. These two poems, the last two written for the first volume, demonstrate Eliot's transformation of symptom into sign, his use of the hysterical symptom as both a referent and the means of referring--as both the real-world phenomenon of symptomatic repetitions to which his words refer and as the literary effect of ambivalent autonomy that this act of referring creates in its own symptomatic repetitions. These repetitions, as I will demonstrate, occur at all levels of poetic structure: words, phrases, clauses, sentences, lines, stanzas, all repeated in particular numbered formulas, just like the hysterical symptom. This use of hysteria as both a structuring and generating device enables Eliot's emergence or mandate as a poet.

I am using the concept of an individual mandate first in the sense implied by Slavoj Zizek's well-known adaptation of Jacques Lacan's fourth, or Joycean, order of "symptom as sinthome [as] a certain signifying formation penetrated with enjoyment: it is a signifier as a bearer of jouis-sense, enjoyment-in-sense" (Zizek 75). As I've argued elsewhere in the case of James Joyce, a literary mandate is first discovered in this "certain signifying formation penetrated with enjoyment," a formation that emerges in the multiple repetition of particular features of language at all levels of originary or mandate-creating texts, as the indexical structure of the word gnomon repeats in Joyce's first or originary text, "The Sisters," written in 1904 and extensively revised in 1906 to take its place as the first text in Dubliners and in Joyce's canon ("The Index"). For Eliot, I've argued, his mandate emerged in his first completed text in his mature style, "Rhapsody on a Windy Night," completed in March 1911, with its multiple repetitions of his "certain signifying formation" ("Deciphering Eliot"). A first emergence, however, requires a continual re-emergence as a writer develops, connecting his or her past with the future through the present act of literary creation. I use mandate here in relation to an evolving artistic career or individual style, but I remain aware that career and style are inseparable from that "certain signifying formation." Writing "Hysteria" and "Mr. Apollinax" four years after "Rhapsody," Eliot resumed his mandate through an act of cultural mimicry, of imitating the hysterical symptom in the literary sign. At this crucial point of emergence and transition in his career, laughter became his uncanny and estranging literary signifier "penetrated with enjoyment" but also pain.

These two poems also refer to two of the three most important people in Eliot's first years in England, "Hysteria" to Vivienne Haigh-Wood, the Englishwoman Eliot met in the spring of 1915 and precipitously married in June that year, and "Mr. Apollinax" to Bertrand Russell, Eliot's Harvard professor in the spring of 1914 and his mentor and betrayer, with Vivienne, in England in 1915 (the third, Ezra Pound, Eliot's matchmaker and literary collaborator, I will discuss below). Eliot wrote these poems at the point of his commitment to his literary mandate, the point at which he impulsively, as it seemed, chose to marry Vivienne in June 1915 and commit himself to poetry, England, and exile rather than to philosophy, the United States, and Harvard, the future or mandate preferred for him by his parents. In marrying Vivienne and entering into the ensuing tangled web of relations with Bertrand Russell, Eliot committed himself to the creative autonomy of the literary sign, an autonomy accessed or experienced for him, as for several previous generations of writers, through the symptom. The spectacularly robust autonomy of the hysterical symptom, as defined and publicized in their different ways by Janet and Freud, had helped generate "Rhapsody on a Windy Night," and he revisited it at this crucial point in his poetic career. In these two laughter poems, written at or just before the point of commitment, with "Mr. Apollinax" being rewritten a year later to align more fully with the terms of that commitment, Eliot clairaudiently hears his past and future. These seemingly minor but essential poems in the Eliot canon, virtually ignored by criticism as complex works of art in themselves, sustain the mandate of laughter--that hybrid form of signifying, midway between respiration and speech, between physiological process and semiotic event, between inexplicable phenomenon and signifying gesture.

Janet addressed hysterical laughter in his twelfth lecture on "The Tics of Respiration and Alimentation. "The tics of respiration differ from those of alimentation because "they are of infinite variety" (245) and are not subject to any ultimate degree of conscious control. Janet notes that many people have starved themselves to death, but none have held their breath until they die, only until they lose consciousness, when breathing automatically resumes unless interfered with by external means. Respiration is itself, as a normal function, subject to the unconscious autonomy that characterizes the hysterical symptom. Tics of respiration are also of special significance because they use all the major organs of speech, which Janet, as a rigorous physiologist, discusses in detail and at length: diaphragm, lungs, epiglottis, trachea, glottis, pharynx, larynx, tongue, teeth, lips, and nose. In the second part of the lecture, Janet divides the "infinite variety" of the tics of respiration into those of inspiration or inhalation and those of expiration or exhalation. These tics differ from one another by only the smallest degree, as the tics of inhalation shade, for example, through the four stages of sighs, sobs, yawns, and hiccoughs. The tics of exhalation shade from cough to laughter to the famous epidemics of hysterical barking:
  One degree further, and the expiration, more violent and accompanied
  with spasms of the glottis, will bring about the most varied cries,
  the famous hysterical barks. You will know that they occurred
  epidemically in the Middle Ages, and that, in the convents, the nuns
  began by hundreds to howl, bark, or mew. It was necessary to threaten
  them with a hot iron to silence them. (262)

Eventually, the feminine symptom would, under this threat of violent male discipline, become a sign: "Little by little, the bark became a particular word, the name of a person, or some obscenity or other."

This transformation of symptoms into signs, including literary signs, both structures and generates Janet s next example, one that foregrounds the necessarily hybrid nature of the paired tics of inhalation and exhalation, their "mixed" quality, as he calls it:
  You understand, in fact, that all these various tics we have analyzed
  may be mixed with one another and give rise to complex phenomena.
  One of the most interesting is that to which I alluded just now when
  speaking of the hiccough. The hiccough, through the vacuum it
  determines in the thorax, produces a draught in the oesophagus and
  causes the subjects to swallow air. After three or four hiccoughs,
  the stomach is full of air, which brings about another fact; namely,
  the expulsion of those gases from the stomach through an eructation.
  Therefore, as you may easily notice, great hiccoughs are always
  interrupted now and then by eructations of different tones. (262)

So the fourth degree of inhalatory tic, the hiccough, is paired with what has to be the fourth degree of exhalatory tic, the eructation or belch (in the sequence cough, laugh, bark, and belch). This pairing of tics of inhalation and exhalation demonstrates in an especially clear fashion that hysterical symptoms are, in fact, always hybrid, always compromise formations. Such symptoms derive their structure from a compromise between oppositions, in ways Janet and Freud, as we shall see, both emphasized.

These symptoms or compromise formations also shade into signs, even literary signs, in the example of the patient Janet then recalls, whose "three or four hiccoughs" were always followed by a belch:
  I used to note down in the following manner the noises that one of my
  patients regularly made:; 'nioup, nioup, nioup, za," and thus
  indefinitely. This same patient complicated her respiratory
  disturbances a little by adding to them disturbances of speech. Thus,
  the noises of her hiccough were of ten transformed into veritable
  words; now and then, she would repeat: "all right," and "all rock,"
  which sounded like the name of her medical attendant. It even appears
  that the noise "nioup, nioup," had been consequent on the reading of
  a novel in which some savages sang: "iou, iou." (262-63)

In the intensely literary environment of the Salpetriere, where Janet's colleague, physician-author Charles Richet, won a Nobel Prize for medicine and wrote popular romans a l'hysterie, and where Janet himself was rumored to have written a novel (see Micale, "Discourses"), it should come as no surprise that this patient's symptom-sign of a three-vowel cluster should be derived from a literary work. Richet, as Janet Bezier has demonstrated, drew directly on the most famous literary hysteric, Emma Bovary, for his celebrated explanations of hysteria in the popular press in the 1880s, a literary-medical representation that became canonic (137-38). In nineteenth-century French literary culture, the hysterical symptom and the literary sign were interchangeable.

Eliot almost certainly had no direct knowledge of this particular instance of the transformation of tics of inhalation and exhalation into a literary sign. However, his representation of symptomatic tics of exhalation and inhalation in both "Hysteria" and "Mr. Apollinax" transform the same hybrid, three- or four-part, structure of repetition into sets of literary signs. In "Hysteria" the poet persona observes a woman suffering from an attack of hysterical laughter, symptomatic exhalations paired with inhalations that metaphorically or symptomatically draw the persona into her mouth and throat. The midlevel unit of structure in "Hysteria," a prose poem, is neither the line nor the stanza but the clause or the sentence. It has four sentences: the first represents the exhalatory tic of laughter, the second the paired inhalations that swallow the persona with four parallel passive verbs:
  As she laughed, I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and
  being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a
  talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at
  each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her
  throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles.
  (Poems 32)

Like a diagnostician, like Janet observing his female hysteric in her four-part attack of hiccoughs and belch, the poet persona focuses on the organs of the hysterical attack and on the structure of the alternations between exhalation and inhalation. The longer exhalations of the laughter are enabled by the shorter and fewer inhalations of her "short gasps." In Janet's case, the proportion is reversed, the longer inhalations of the hiccoughs enabled by the shorter exhalations of the belch. However, like Janet, the persona focuses in the second sentence on the inhalations and on the four-part rhythm of the symptom as a whole, a rhythm repeated in the four verbs and four sentences (a structure, as we shall see, repeated in a more complex fashion in the two stanzas of "Mr. Apollinax"). In other words, hysteria is not only the referent but also the means of referring. In its reference to the symptom and its using or being used by the repetitions of the symptom in its referring, the language of the poet persona is thus hystericized in ways and for reasons I will address below.

This hystericization of the text also returns to the ur-figure of hysteria: "the neuter plural of hystera (the Greek word for uterus),"Janet Bezier reminds us, is "hysteria, literally 'things of the uterus'" (45). As Bezier also points out, "Metaphoric connections between voicebox/throat/neck and vagina/uterus/cervix are retained from antiquity well into the nineteenth century" (and, I would add, the early twentieth century). Eliot's figure of being inhaled into the woman's throat modernizes the original figure of hysteria as the boule or ball noted by Baudelaire, the wandering womb that rises from the genitals to the throat. The parallel participles of the first sentence--"becoming involved ... being part of"--dissolve the boundary between outer and inner, public and private, between the most distant and diffuse ("accidental stars") and the densest and nearest ("her teeth"), allowing the persona to imagine or hallucinate being inhaled past this boundary into the throat-uterus.

The first sentences express the same fascinated perplexity at both the nervous intensity and the puzzling ambiguity of the hysterical laughter especially remarked on by Janet:
  One degree further: you have hysterical laughter, those interminable
  crises of laughter which develop for hours together like real fits of
  hysterics. You know the psychological problem of laughter, and are
  aware that this phenomenon, apparently so amusing, is a torturing
  problem for the unfortunate scientists. You should not fancy that
  laughter is always the expression of joy. Certain hysterical
  laughters are of this kind. ... But in other cases, laughter
  accompanies pain; it accompanies nervous exhaustion and is to be
  observed in great delirious attacks. It is probably a phenomenon of
  the derivation of the nervous strength very difficult to account for.

Since Charcot's famous Tuesday demonstrations, Parisian hysteria had been a matter of the spectacle of symptomatic excess. Laughing, barking, hiccoughing for days at a time--these very public displays helped pro-duce hysteria's celebrity, the celebrity that brought the two most famous theoreticians of hysteria to Massachusetts within three years of each other.

Hysteria, however, not only involves this most public display of excess but also originates, in Freud's theory at least, in the most private relations. The last two sentences of the prose poem indirectly address the issue of public excess and avoid the issue of private origin:
  An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink
  and white checked cloth over the rusty green table, saying: "If the
  lady and gentlemen wish to take their tea in the garden, If the lady
  and gentlemen wish to take their tea in the garden ..." I decided
  that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the
  fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my
  attention with careful subtlety to this end.

The great delirious attack, as Janet calls it, takes place in public, an outdoor restaurant, where a waiter "hurriedly" tries to hustle the pair out to the garden, where, presumably, the spectacle of the lady's excessive laughing will be less public. The poet persona's response reveals little.

The persona's minimal representation--his four carefully balanced sentences, all roughly thirty words long, with only the third lengthened out by the repetition of the waiter's statement--contrasts with the excess of the woman's laughter and raises all sorts of questions. What was the immediate cause of the woman's laughter? Did it have an immediate cause that was perhaps only the trigger for a profounder etiology? What is the relationship between the laugher and the observer? In short, what is the cause and what is the context for this public display of obviously private and probably intimate matters? Such questions confront the reader but also the psychologist like Janet and the psychoanalyst like Freud. In his lectures at Clark University in 1909, Freud, almost certainly well aware of his famous predecessor's visit to Harvard three years before, took great pains to distinguish between his and Janet's theoretical approaches to understanding etiology of the hysterical symptom. In the first lecture he repeated his landmark formulation of the cause of hysteria: "our hysterical patients suffer from reminiscences. Their symptoms are residues and mnemic symbols of particular (traumatic) experiences" ("Five Lectures" 16; Freud's italics). The intensity of the symptom derives from a "hysterical conversion" from memory to somatic agent or bodily organ produced by a "splitting of the personality" between consciousness and the unconscious that creates and sustains the particular symptom. This splitting comes about because of an intense conflict between incompatible desires, and this is what for Freud distinguishes Viennese from Parisian hysteria:
  You will now see in what it is that the difference lies between our
  view and Janet's. We do not derive the psychical splitting from an
  innate incapacity for synthesis on the part of the mental apparatus:
  we explain it dynamically, from the conflict of opposing mental
  forces, and recognize it as the outcome of an active struggling on
  the part of the two psychical groupings against each other. (25-26)

A more important difference between Paris and Vienna, however, lies in the difference between Janet's and Freud's approach to the public and private sides of hysteria. In reaction to his predecessor, Charcot, Janet had psychologized the symptom, but the symptom for him was still the Charcotian spectacle of public excess. The symptom was itself the celebrity. Although Freud had been drawn to Charcot's demonstrations in Paris in 1885, he had in the development of the talking cure with Breuer made hysteria a matter of the most private relations with the most intimate other. These relations are repeated in the psychoanalytic phenomenon of transference that Freud discussed in the fifth lecture:
  In every psycho-analytic treatment of a neurotic patient the strange
  phenomenon that is known as "transference" makes its appearance. The
  patient, that is to say, directs towards the physician a degree of
  affectionate feeling (mingled, often enough, with hostility) which is
  based on no real relation between them and which ... can only be
  traced back to old wishful phantasies of the patient's which have
  become unconscious. (51)

He quickly adds: "you must not suppose, moreover, that the phenomenon of transference ... is created by psycho-analytic influence. Transference arises spontaneously in all human relationships just as it does between the patient and the physician."

Through the measured taciturnity of the persona of "Hysteria," Eliot occludes the context and the cause of the public display of private matters. This foregrounds the intimate, intersubjective relations of transference, and its inverse, counter transference, between the laugher and the observer. Both are caught in a feedback loop: the symptom of the woman's laughter is answered and reinforced by the symptom of the man's hallucination of being inhaled. Her hysterical tic is answered by the countertransference, as in Freud, of the man's hallucination, represented in his hysterical verbal tic of four-part sentence and clause structures. As has often been observed, the "Hysteria" of the title must refer to both laugher and observer. Eliot's representation of hysteria is thus ambiguously both female and male in structure and, as I shall argue below, both personal and literary.

The gendered ambiguity of the title of this prose poem is also answered by the poem it is paired with in Prufrock and Other Observations, "Mr. Apollinax," dominated as it is by laughter of the male title character. The twin poems were likely written at about the same time, Lyndall Gordon dates "Hysteria" to Eliot's period at Oxford during the months of his very brief courtship of Vivienne Haigh-Wood, just before they married on 26 June 1915 (180). Lawrence Rainey dates the composition of "Mr. Apollinax" to April 1915, based on watermark correlation between Eliot's drafts and his letters of the period (198). Significantly, Eliot made revisions to "Mr. Apollinax" for publication in Poetry in September 1916. The revisions brought the language of the poet persona of "Mr. Apollinax" in line with the repetitive verbal tics of the poet persona of "Hysteria" and Eliot's other personae. In the first draft reproduced in Inventions of the March Hare, only the first stanza of fifteen lines is organized into a four-part structure, with four sentence units with end-stopped and period-punctuated lines (344). The second stanza of six lines has five sentences, including three quoted sentences of unattributed discourse about the title character. In the fair copy, Eliot added the second end-stopped and period-punctuated line and a fourth instance of unattributed discourse, making two sets of four sentences (counting the now four instances of unattributed discourse as one sentence). (3) The four-part or suite structure was Eliot's basic unit of midlevel composition since the summer of 1910, when he wrote three four-part poems, "Mandarins," "Goldfish (Essence of Summer Magazines)," and "Suite Clownesque," the fourth being the four-part "Preludes" that he began in November 1909 and finished after his year in Paris in November 1911 (see chronological table, Inventions xxxviii-xl). The term suite is derived from music and designates the pairing of dance types in pairs of pairs, or four parts arranged in a sequence of quickening tempo. (4) The twelve poems of Prufrock and Other Observations were organized by Eliot and Pound in the spring of 1917 in three four-part groupings or suites. (5) Both "Hysteria" and "Mr. Apollinax" are organized by the suite structure at the level of the sentence.

In the line added to the first stanza, the dominant agent of "Mr. Apollinax" is announced, as his laughter becomes the subject of the main clause of the opening sentence:
When Mr. Apollinax visited the United States
His laughter tinkled among the teacups. (Poems 31)

Further revisions have Mr. Apollinax's laughter dominating the syntax, taking the position of subject or verb in the main clause of three of the four sentences ("His laughter tinkled"; "I thought of"; "He laughed like"; "His laughter was").
I thought of Fragilion, that shy figure among the birch-trees,
And of Priapus in the shrubbery
Gaping at the lady in the swing.
In the palace of Mrs. Phlaccus, at Professor Charming-Cheetah's
He laughed like an irresponsible foetus.
His laughter was submarine and profound
Like the old man of the sea's
Hidden under coral islands
Where worried bodies of drowned men drift down in the green silence,
Dropping from fingers of surf.

As in '"Hysteria," the poem as a whole foregrounds the intersubjective relation between laugher and observer, a relation brought to balance by the second stanza, where, as we shall see, the observer's responses dominate three of the tour subject-and-verb complexes. In this first stanza, however, the laughter seems to be detached from the laugher, taking on many shapes, shuttling between contraries, moving to thresholds, occupying extremes. In the first pair of sentences the laughter "tinkled" percussively on the tea-party china, prompting for the observer painterly eighteenth-century scenes of libertinage. In the second pair the laughter migrates to a dark and oceanic world of birth and death where it sounds like both the unborn and the ageless, a foetus and Proteus (the "old man of the sea"). Apollinax's laughter is elemental, oceanic, ageless, and autonomous. A visitor to a foreign land, it is the truly alien.

The protean autonomy of the laughter clearly demonstrates how the hysterical symptom functions for Eliot as both referent and the means of referring. As Eliot represents it, the laughter has the autonomy and the spectacular excess of Janet's symptom, "the limitless ability at excess" that Baudelaire identified as a key characteristic of male hysterics. Through both the syntax and the figuration of the first stanza--the means of referring--the laughter hystericizes the poet's language. As in the hallucination of being inhaled by the woman's repetition of exhalations and inhalations, so this observer hallucinates the man's laughter as his own symptoms of hybrid excess: the laughter as youngest and oldest, as least and most, as hybrid figures of human and animal. In the four syntactical units of the second stanza, the poet and his fellow observers, the Harvard gentility transfixed by Apollinax's laughter, compulsively repeat these hallucinations:
I looked for the head of Mr. Apollinax rolling under a chair
Or grinning over a screen
With seaweed in its hair.
I heard the beat of the centaur's hoofs over the hard turf
As his dry and passionate talk devoured the afternoon.
"He is a charming man"--"But after all what did he mean?"--
"His pointed ears ... He must be unbalanced."--
"There was something he said that I might have challenged."
Of dowager Mrs. Phlaccus, and Professor and Mrs. Cheetah
I remember a slice of lemon, and a bitten macaroon.

"I looked ... I heard ... I remember": along with the "I thought" of the first stanza, these first-person predications have two verbs of sense (looked, heard) and two of intellection (thought, remember). While the fourth verb (remember) does not refer directly to Apollinax or his laughter, it does refer to the other transfixed observers of his laughter. All of the persona's verbal actions refer to the symptom and its sources, Apollinax's head, his talk devouring the afternoon like the woman's laughter inhaling the persona in "Hysteria." In this way hysteria is both the referent of the poem and the means of referring.

Another referent of the poem is especially significant. "Mr. Apollinax" has always been understood to be a portrait of another distinguished visiting professor to Harvard, the philosopher Bertrand Russell. In the spring of 1914 Eliot took a graduate course from him in symbolic logic. Russell was very impressed with him ("My pupil Eliot is the only one who is civilized," he wrote Ottoline Morrell [Gordon 29]), and Eliot, in turn, was deeply affected by Russell's behavior at a summer tea party hosted by Benjamin Apthorp Fuller, a Harvard philosopher. The scene of the poem "in the palace of Mrs. Phlaccus, at Professor Channing-Cheetah's" recalls this event, contrasting the passionate exuberance of Russell with the effete mannerisms of the Cambridge gentility, an exuberance expressed in "Russell's notoriously loud and raucous laughter," as his biographer Ray Monk describes it (353). Russell once remarked of this poem that Eliot had "noticed the madness" in him (qtd. in Monk 354). What Eliot most definitely noticed, as the hallucinatory allusions suggest, was the sexual madness. Eliot likely knew little of Russell's personal life at this point, but he obviously intuited something of the force of the sexual energy of the famous philosopher and foreshadowed with a clairaudient accuracy his immediate future.

Eliot met Russell on the street in London in October 1914 and took up the older philosopher's informal offer to act as a mentor. In March 1915 he met Vivienne Haigh-Wood, in April he wrote "Mr. Apollinax," and "Hysteria" came shortly thereafter. A referent for the female laugher of the latter poem has also always been understood to be Vivienne. In the spring of 1915, then, he linked his mentor Bertrand Russell and his soon-to-be bride in hysterical laughter. That summer--while Eliot returned to America to try to reconcile his parents to his marriage and to his decision to stay in England and devote himself to literature, rather than accepting his doctorate from Harvard and taking up a professorship in philosophy--Russell and Vivienne began an affair. "We have been more or less of a triple menage," Vivienne wrote in a letter after Eliot rejoined her in England. "Bertie Russell has taken us up. I cheer him up, be says--and the flat rings with his raucous mirth" (qtd. in Seymour-Jones 126). This relationship has been extensively studied by Gordon (120-27), Monk (432-35), and Seymour-Jones (110-219), but what has not yet been appreciated is how the context of the affair illuminates Eliot's commitment to his mandate as a poet. In the symbolist tradition of Baudelaire and Flaubert that drew him to Paris in 1910-11, Eliot created and experienced this mandate as the transformation of the symptom into the literary sign. In the spring of 1915, in taking up Russell's mentorship for entry into the world of the English intelligentsia, and in marrying Vivienne, he was committing himself to this mandate, and the sign and symptom of this commitment were their autonomous and intertwined laughters. (6) Though he knew about the affair and knew that others knew, Eliot never separated these intertwined laughters: in fact, as I've argued, in revising "Mr. Apollinax' in 1916, he made it more like Vivienne's poem, doubling the repetition of the four-part linguistic or verbal tic from "Hysteria" and the laughter of the two other members of this triple menage.

Laughter, interestingly enough, is not an item among the ninety-nine hysterical symptoms listed in the index to The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (300-01). It had, however, been a major theoretical concern for Freud, deeply connected to his study of the symptom in hysteria and to his discovery of the dream work, the dominant topics of his 1909 lectures in Massachusetts. Four years before those lectures, he had published Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, where he argued that the joke work functioned by the same mechanisms as the dream work, producing verbal hybrids or composite words, especially composites of proper names, through condensation and displacement. Just as in dreams, composite words in jokes are the overdetermined nodal points in the economy of psychical expenditure on pleasure and repression. Freud posits four ontogenic stages, starting with mere solitary and unconscious wordplay and rising to the jest, where the pleasure becomes social and conscious, the joke still innocent of purpose, and finally the "tendentious" joke, the joke with an erotic or aggressive purpose (137-38). As an effect of the unconscious, a joke has a compulsive, infectious, repetitive nature: it must be told to another for the purpose of the discharge of psychical energy that Freud defines as laughter: "We should say that laughter arises if a quota of psychical energy which has earlier been used for the cathexis of particular psychical paths has become unstable, so that it can find tree discharge" (147). Joke telling and joke receiving form a complex structure that I will discuss below, enabling the discharge of this energy.

At least two elements of Freud's theory of laughter may illuminate elements of the joke work of the two poems in question, one rather obvious and one well hidden in plain sight. Mr. Apollinax's name is a hybrid or composite word fusing Apollo or Apollon, god of intellectual inquiry, with Ajax, the Homeric hero who takes the place of Achilles after his withdrawal but, after being bested by Odysseus, falls in madness. Bertrand Russell, a leading philosophical mind of his age, author of Principia Mathematica and a philanderer, fuses these extremes of reason and madness, and his laughter is the agent of that fusion. Apollinax would be the joke-work composite name of his laughter. But what is Apollinax, and the woman of "Hysteria" for that matter, laughing at? And from what position can we discern the laughter's structural cause: from the position of the laugher, the observer, the reader, or the author? For the "tendentious" joke, the real object of his inquiry, Freud posited that there were always necessarily three positions:
  Joking as a play with one's own words and thoughts is to begin with
  without a person as an object. But already at the preliminary stage
  of the jest, ... it demands another person to whom it can communicate
  its results. But this second person in the case of the joke does not
  correspond to the person who is the object, but to the third person,
  the "other" person in the case of the comic. ... If a joke enters the
  service of the purpose of exposing or of a hostile purpose, it may be
  described as a psychical process between three persons. (144)

In other words, there are always necessarily three people, a triple menage, involved in a joke with an aggressive or erotic purpose: the joker teller, the object of the joke, and the joke receiver. In Freud's terms, then, Eliot, the author, clairaudiently heard himself as the second person in this triple menage, the object of the joke in both cases. The reader, aware of the context, can now see this structural cause. Apollinax and the woman laugh from the position of the joke receiver and would also be situated in the position of the joke teller for each other.

On one level, all of this is merely personal. The larger literary significance for Eliot and modernism, however, is that in conducting his own researches into the compositional possibilities of the symptom--research remarkably paralleled, as I have tried to argue, by two global specialists of the symptom in the first decades of the twentieth century--Eliot experienced what he came to define as the autonomy of literature. His composition of the literary sign paralleled in remarkable ways Janet's and Freud's account of symptom formation. Janet maintained that hysterical symptoms are created when a subconscious idee fixe detaches from the subject's conscious control and forms the nucleus of an etat second or a second system outside of that control. Freud, as he acknowledged in his lecture noted earlier, took up this splitting of the subject into a conscious intentional system and an unconscious autonomous system through which the obsessively repetitive structures of the symptom are produced; however, he attributed this splitting to a traumatic memory produced by an irreducible ambivalence in the subject's desire. The structure of this intense ambivalence, the obsessively repetitive structure of a compromise formation that does not choose between the opposed desires, is what the hysterical symptom and the literary sign have in common. Janet Bezier glosses the great nineteenth-century literary example of this ambivalence, Flaubert's irony and the obsessional figure of water through which he expresses his refusal to choose:
  Flaubert's irony thus responds to a binary structure of thought
  within which incompatible perceptions sustain each other in uneasy
  but threatened cohabitation--knowledge modifying belief, which in
  turn reshapes knowledge. The functioning of such a structure depends
  on vacillation, equivocation, and irresolution. Water, the essence of
  elusiveness and mutability, is its element; its visual emblem is
  moire, the very tissue of undecidability, and its psychic
  counterpart, the fetish. ... Like irony, like the fetish, hysteria is
  a compromise formation. (163-64)

Like Eliot's laughers and observers or, more precisely, like the autonomous symptoms of both laughter and observation, interlocking in the syntactic structure of the two stanzas of "Mr. Apollinax," the hysterical symptom and the literary sign share this endlessly generating autonomous and ambivalent structure, this "certain signifying formation," as Zizek put it, penetrated with pleasure and pain. Eliot's commitment to and by literature, his mandate as poet, emerged from his experience of this generative force.

Eliot first began to experience this in his experiments in the pairing of poems and the pairing of pairs in suites recorded in Inventions of the March Hare in the winter and spring of 1910. This led most obviously to the four formal parts of "Preludes," but the suite structure works at many other levels of structure and repetition. The rhapsode of "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" hears during his somnambulistic nightwalk (somnambulism was, for Janet, the type of the hysterical symptom [23]) a precisely proportioned suite of audible hallucinations, a pair of pairs, as the "street-lamp" speaks twice in direct speech for ten lines and the "lamp" speaks twice for twenty lines. As I have noted elsewhere, this pairing and the pairing of this suite with the other hallucinations of the persona mobilize the means of referring into autonomous patterns, as words like "memory," "twist," and "smell" are repeated in obsessively precise structures of repetition ("Deciphering"). In the pairing of "Mr. Apollinax" and "Hysteria," Eliot re-experiences the generative force five years later, at the point of his uncharacteristically rash and seemingly impetuous commitment to literature, England, and exile through his sudden marriage to Vivienne and his entangled involvement in the triple menage they formed with Russell. He was putting forever behind him the New England gentility found "in the palace of Mrs. Phlaccus, at Professor Charming-Cheetah's," of which he will only "remember a slice of lemon, and a bitten macaroon" the domestic sours and sweets of the American life his parents wanted for him. Instead, he would choose the autonomy of ambivalent emotions that he first experienced in his imitation of and experiments in the hysterical symptom in the act of literary production.

The structure of this experience, I would argue, recurs four years later in "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Famously, Eliot there compared the act of literary creation to the production of sulphurous acid through the introduction of a catalyst, a strip of platinum, into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum unaffected by the fusion of the two substances into the hybrid or third substance. What has not been glossed about this much-examined section of the essay is the arrangement or structure of the examples that follow, how they repeat the paired and productive ambivalences of the suite structure deployed in "Mr. Apollinax," "Hysteria," and elsewhere in Eliot's self-creation as a poet.

Eliot deploys seven examples, structured into two sets of three with the seventh functioning as the fourth for both sets, in a repetition of Janet's "nioup, nioup, nioup, za" structure. The first set of three are all drawn from the Inferno and all related to the ambivalence and monstrous autonomy of desire. I he lengthy exposition of the first example, Canto XV (Brunetto Latini), and Dante's ambivalent presentation of it--his personal affection for the old master countered by doctrinal condemnation of homosexual desire, alluded to but not specifically described by Eliot--is followed by two examples briefly mentioned:
  The episode of Paolo and Francesca employs a definite emotion, but
  the intensity of the poetry is something quite different from
  whatever intensity in the supposed experience it may give the
  impression of. It is no more intense, furthermore, than Canto XXVI,
  the voyage of Ulysses, which has not the direct dependence upon an

Homosexual desire is followed by heterosexual, and both by the Dantean figure whose excesses embody the monstrous autonomy of desire. These three examples are immediately followed by a second set of three:
  Great variety is possible in the process of transmutation of emotion:
  the murder of Agamemnon, or the agony of Othello, gives an artistic
  effect apparently closer to a possible original than the scenes from
  Dante. In the Agamemnon, the artistic emotion approximates to the
  emotion of an actual spectator; in Othello to the emotion of the
  protagonist himself. But the difference between the art and the event
  is always absolute; the combination which is the murder of Agamemnon
  is probably as complex as that which is the voyage of Ulysses. In
  either case there has been a fusion of elements. The ode of Keats
  contains a number of feelings which have nothing particular to do
  with the nightingale, but which the nightingale, partly perhaps
  because of its attractive name, and partly because of its reputation,
  served to bring together, (42)

In this set, the tragedy or the betrayal and murder of the husband is paired with the tragedy of the betrayal and murder of the wife, the first approximating the emotion external to the protagonists, the second internal to the protagonist. The third example concerns the coolness of "feelings" that follow the hot and violent "emotions" of betrayal and murder. With the coolness of its liquids, its fountains, its wine, and its longing for a contraction of the world, Keats's ode pairs in striking contrast with the literal fire of the monologue of Ulysses and his monstrous desire for a continual expansion of experience, though those oppositional elements have to be retrieved by the reader.

The two sets of three lead into the fourth, which Eliot quotes at length without naming the text (The Revenger's Tragedy), the speaker (Vindice), or the context (Vindice's addressing the skull of his murdered lover), so that it appears in the essay without cause or context like the hallucination of the persona of "Hysteria" drawn into the mouth and throat of the laughing woman:
And now methinks I could e'en chide myself
For doating on her beauty, though her death
Shall be revenged after no common action.
Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours
For thee? For thee does she undo herself?
Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships
For the poor benefit of a bewildering moment?
Why does yon fellow falsify highways,
And put his life between the judge's lips,
To refine such a thing--keeps horses and men
To beat their valours for her?

In his gloss, Eliot emphasizes the hybrid and ambivalent structure of the emotions and the autonomy of the feelings produced by their fusion:
  In this passage (as is evident if it is taken in its context) there
  is a combination of positive and negative emotions: an intensely
  strong attraction to beauty and an equally intense fascination by the
  ugliness which is contrasted with it and which destroys it. This
  balance of contrasted emotions is in the dramatic situation to which
  the speech is pertinent, but that situation alone is inadequate to
  it. This is, so to speak, the structural emotion provided by the
  drama. But the whole effect, the dominant tone, is due to the fact
  that a number of floating feelings, having an affinity to this
  emotion by no means superficially evident, having combined with it to
  give us a new art emotion. (42)

The "attraction to beauty" and the "fascination with ugliness" are both a "combination of positive and negative emotions" and a "balance of contrasted emotions," constituting an ambivalence that for Eliot creates and sustains the autonomy of the symptom-sign. One can also see another way this passage spoke to Eliot: it speaks with his own verbal tic of four-part repetition, as the speaker's four rhetorical questions interpellate both the object of the questions and himself.

Such a claim finally raises directly the question of the relationship between conscious intention and unconscious outcome, between significant repetition and insignificant or collateral repetition. In the poems I have examined, Eliot clearly intended to mimic symptomatic behavior in some way. This intentional mimesis of the symptom, what I earlier called hysteria as referent also necessarily involved autonomous and unconscious outcomes through what I called hysteria as the means of referring. This necessity comes about because, as Mark S. Micale points out, the hysterical symptom is nothing but mimesis, nothing but mimicry of real symptoms:
  Construed as an object of knowledge, as a site of scientific
  representation, hysteria had no coherent and fixed identity of its
  own. As most commonly understood by nineteenth- and twentieth-century
  medicine, hysteria is a "neuromimetic" affliction. It is the
  masquerading malady that has no essence but rather emerges,
  chameleon-like, by aping the symptomatological forms of other organic
  diseases, most often neurological diseases. It is an image made in
  the image and likeness of other images.
  ("Discourses" 90)

The protean instability of the symptom releases the autonomy of mimesis in real patients and the autonomy of the literary sign when imitated in literary representations like "Hysteria" or "Mr. Apollinax." This release produces sets of repetitions that shade, like Janet's symptoms of respiration, from clearly intentional effects to less clearly intentional ones to effects whose cause or significance is unknowable. Like laughter itself, these repetitions necessarily link conscious intention and unconscious ambiguities. As the focus of conscious literary intention, what can we say laughter signifies? One thinks of that other early modernist laughter, the "laughing-like" event of Father Flynn reported by Eliza Flynn at the end of Joyce's first mandate text, "The Sisters" in Dubliners. Alone in his confessional, Father Flynn is observed by three priests and a clerk to be "Wide awake and laughing-like to himself" (18). The reference as "laughing-like," rather than laughing proper, foregrounds the irreducible ambiguity of the symptom (how is laughing-like, for example, clearly distinguishable from weeping-like?) and the unknowability of its cause or significance (much criticism has speculated about the cause or context of this ambiguous event (7)). As Joyce mobilized the complex semiosis of laughter at the emergence of his mandate in the story that begins his canon, so Eliot deploys laughter to confirm the immediate future of his.


(1.) The great historian of the Parisian intertwining of medical and literary cultures around hysteria is Mark S. Micale.

(2.) In Inventions of the March Hare Eliot gives these dates for completion of the poems: "Rhapsody," March 1911 (340); "Preludes," July 1911 (336);"Prufrock," July-August 1911 (41); and "Portrait of a Lady," November 1911 (331).

(3.) "Mr. Apollinax" appeared in Poetry and Prufrock and Other Observations without a stanza break. In the sequence of texts I have been able to examine, the stanza break seems to appear in print first in Poems 1909-1925 (Harcourt Brace and Company); however, the stanza break is also a page break after line thirteen ("I looked for the head ...") in the short page format of this text. This break, which also breaks sentence five, is reproduced in Collected Poems 1909-1935 (Faber and Faber), The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 (in both Faber and Faber and Harcourt Brace, where a period added at the stanza break makes nine sentences). The current break after line twelve ("Dropping from fingers of surf") seems to appear first in The Collected Poems, 1909-1962 (Harcourt Brace and World) and is reproduced in The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot, ed. Valerie Eliot, Faber and Faber, 1969, the text with which I am working.

(4.) The suite derives from
  a practice widespread in Italy and extending to Germany of creating
  pairs and sometimes larger groups of dances out of the same
  material. ... It could be danced in four mensurations corresponding
  to four dance types: the grave bassdanza, the modern quadernaria, the
  livelier saltarello and the quick piva. Three and even four of these
  were used in the pantomimic balli, though the norm for ordinary
  dancing was the pair."
  (New Grow 336).

(5.) The first four poems in Prufrock and Other Observations were completed in 1911 in Paris or shortly after Eliot's return: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." "Portrait of a Lady" "Rhapsody on Windy Night," and "Preludes." This suite forms a pair of pairs. The first pair turns around an ambiguous situation between a man and a woman that is not staged in the first, but staged three times in the second. The second represents the hallucinatory or somnabulistic nature of modern urban life, staged in the first poem from the outside from multiple perspectives (parts 1 and 2) and then in a gendered pair (female in 3, male in 4), and in the second poem from the inside through a single male hallucinator or rhapsode. The second suite," Morning at the Window," "The Boston Evening Transcript," "Aunt Helen," and "Cousin Nancy," also forms a pair of pairs, written in immediate response in 1914 and early 1915 to the prevailing mode of the avant-garde that Eliot encountered on his arrival in London, imagism and its successor, Ezra Pound's vorticism. The third suite presented the only real editorial problem for Eliot and Pound in creating the volume. The pair of "Mr. Apollinax" and "Hysteria" was not followed by a second pair. Eliot wrote no poetry for two years from the spring of 1915 until 1917, when he began to write the French poems that would appear in his two second volumes. To complete the suite, Eliot and Pound chose the only poem in the volume written before Eliot's transformative year in Paris, "Conversation Galante" (1909), perhaps because its cool lunar ironies paired so well in contrast with the hot solar eroticism of "La Figlia che Piange" (1912), one of the few poems Eliot wrote between his return from Paris in 1911 and his beginning of the unpublished cycle of religions poems, "Descent from the Cross," in the summer of 1914. "La Figlia," composed of 24 lines turning at the center and fixated by "The troubled midnight and the noon's repose," I argue, was always fated to close this volume of three suites and twelve poems.

(6.) The fourth party in this menage, as the biographers have noted, was Ezra Pound, the leader of the literary avant garde in London whom Eliot met and dazzled with his Paris suite of poems in the fall of 1914, and who likely tried to maneuver Eliot and Vivienne toward marriage as a way of keeping Eliot in England (Seymour-Jones 82-85). Pound would oversee all of Eliot's publication up to and including The Waste Laud. In collaboration with Pound, Eliot would arrange his first volume of poems in a group of twelve--three suites of four poems, the last suite beginning with "Mr. Apollinax" and "Hysteria."

(7.) For my own contribution to this speculation, see "The Index Nothing Affirmeth."

Works cited

Baudelaire, Charles. "Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert." 1857. Madame Bovary. Trans. Paul de Man. New York: Norton, 1965. 336-43.

Bezier, Janet. Ventriloquized Bodies: Narratives of Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century France. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994.

Eliot, T. S. The Complete Poems and Plays. Ed. Valerie Eliot. London: Faber, 1969.

--. Inventions of the March Hare. Ed. Christopher Ricks. London: Faber, 1996.

--. "Tradition and the Individual Talent." Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot. Ed. Frank Kermode. London: Faber, 1975. 37-44.

Ellenberger, H. F. "Pierre Janet and His American Friends." Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, and the New England Medical Scene, 1894-1944. Ed. George E. Gifford Jr. New York: Science History, 1978. 63-72.

Freud, Sigmund. "Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis." 1910. Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo da Vinci, and Other Writings. Trans. James Strachey. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 11. London: Hogarth, 1957. 9-55.

--. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Trans. James Strachey. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 8. London: Hogarth, 1955.

Gay, Peter. Freud: A Life for Our Times. New York: Norton, 1988.

Gordon, Lyndall. T. S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life. New York: Norton, 1998.

Index. Comp. Angela Richards. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 24. Loudon: Hogarth, 1974.

Janet, Pierre. The Major Symptoms of Hysteria. 1907. New York: Macmillan, 1920.

Joyce, James. "The Sisters." Dubliners. Ed. Robert Scholes and A. Walton Litz. New York: Penguin, 1969. 9-18.

Li, Victor. "T. S. Eliot and the Language of Hysteria." Dalhousie Review 77.3 (1997): 323-34.

McArthur, Murray. "Deciphering Eliot: 'Rhapsody on a Windy Night' and the Dialectic of the Cipher." American Literature 66.3 (1994): 509-24.

--."'The Index Nothing Affirmeth': The Semiotic Formation of a Literary Mandate in James Joyce's 'The Sisters.'" James Joyce Quarterly 45.2 (2008): 245-62.

Micale, Mark S. Approaching Hysteria: Disease and Its Interpretations. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995.

--. "Discourses of Hysteria in Fin-de-Siecle France." The Mind of Modernism: Medicine, Psychology, and the Cultural Arts in Europe and America, 1880-1940. Ed. Mark S. Micale. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2004. 71-92.

Monk, Ray. Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude. London: Vintage, 1997.

New Grove Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians. Ed. Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan, 1980. Vol. 18.

Rainey, Lawrence. Revisiting The Waste Land. New Haven: Yale UP, 2005.

Seymour-Jones, Carole. Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot., and the Long-Suppressed Truth About Her Influence on his Genius. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso, 1989.
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Date:Mar 22, 2010
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