Annette Bitsch (1969-2016) earned her PhD in 1997 at the Institut für Kulturwissenschaft of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (‘always crashing in the same car’: Jacques Lacans Mathematik des Unbewussten, 2001), where she subsequently taught as Wissenschaftliche Assistentin until she defended her habilitation in 2007 (Diskrete Gespenster: Die Genealogie des Unbewussten aus der Medientheorie und Philosophie der Zeit, 2009).

She taught at several universities in Germany and Switzerland before returning to the Institut für Kulturwissenschaft from 2009 to 2011. Since 2011, she worked as an independent author and the director of the Text Academy Annette Bitsch.

A Media History
of Migraine

ICI Project 2007-08

The research project on media history of migraine envisions a decidedly interdisciplinary exploration and survey of this illness. Methodologically, the study will be based on Lacanian psychoanalysis. The disease or rather the phenomenon of migraine will be studied and analyzed in regard to different historical and media-theoretical apriorities, as well as in its relationship to the histories of culture, philosophy and science respectively. Migraine (from the Greek hemikranion, hemikrania – hemi-cranium) is an illness of the nervous system which may continue for 4 to 72 hours. Its main symptom is a paroxysmal, pulsating and usually hemilateral headache, which may be accompanied by different and at times disparate symptoms: nausea, vomiting, hypersensitivity towards light and noise, development of edema, backaches, dantesque fatigues, irritability, euphoria. Migraine is a disease or an illness which is in fact fundamentally constituted by the dialectics of tension and catharsis, or, to use the technical terms, arousal and derousal. The dynamics of these dialectics are observed on all levels of the illness’ manifestations: beginning with the superior or main cycle, which will subsume the characteristic syndromes in its periodical re-occurence; on the level of each single progression of one particular seizure, as well as, finally, in every single psychical, neurological, abdominal, cardiological, nasal, etc. symptom. Several theoreticians of migraine correlate its periodicity with the epileptic cycle on the one hand, and the peacefully flowing cycle of sleep-and-waking rhythms on the other, since in migraine an increasing accumulation of stress and tension is always followed by a sudden discharge, which is again followed by a phase of relaxation and recovery. The dialectics of psychical as well as physiological tension and tension-release, of phases of arousal and derousal or inhibition determine the whole seizure: phases of insomnia, panic, mania, overexcitation, oneiric and nightmarish auras will alternate with phases of somnolence, depressive lack of motivation, and cataclysmically fed emotions of inner voids and paralysis. The projected book is situated in the overall context of ‘tension’ and, relying on its comprehensive approach, will interrelate different discourses in order to describe the close connection between bodies and media.

The diversity and discontinuity of migraine’s symptoms – as mentioned above – proves to be appropriate and even predestined to spark off various questions of the physical body. The projected book will pursue and articulate these questions in different ways and in the view of the basic figure of tension and tension-release. The determination of what a body was supposed to be will be evolved on the occasion of selected migraine-theories and various forms of therapy in different historical periods. This study will, for example, show the fundamental differences between show a Cartesian body — that could be anatomically dissected and systematized in a tableau or grid pattern on the one side and the body as it is conceived in modern biology according to its functions and dynamics (e.g., Bichat). The logics of cybernetics or of genetics will construct a completely different body of feedback systems or coded information, models surpassed again by non-medical concepts of the body as in psychoanalysis. Affiliated with this issue is the set of problems concerning the relation between mind and body. It has to be observed though that in the most advanced cybernetic and neurophysiological discourses, which promise to materialize the sesame of essence, of being, and of the mind in the chemistry of neurotransmitters, a consistent unit of the mind and body is silently assumed. The projected book sets out to subvert this implied unity on the basis of Jacques Lacan’s distinction between the imaginary and the real body. Based on the diverse and fascinating material, which migraine provides with respect to its etiology, its pathology, its clinical diagnostics, and its forms of therapy, the book will give insight into the various and — in their respective historical contexts — diversely configurated interfaces between media and bodies.