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The Dramatic Form of Ambition in Early Nineteenth-Century France

AuthorsMoscoso, Javier
Issue Date2019
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
CitationCultural History, Volume 8 Issue 1, Page 7-23 (2019)
AbstractThe spectacle of suffering, so much present in the asylum, does not refer here to the field of the visual but to a different form of representation by means of which an emotional experience could be turned into a story. By looking at the way in which madness was given the form of a social drama, I intend to suggest a new way to look at the history of the passions that focuses on the preconditions rather than on the results. The pathologization of passions in general, and of ambition in particular, required a new observational and visual regimen in which certain passionate states could be regarded as vehement or delirious. I would argue that the transformation of emotional symptoms into clinical signs required the mobilization of many elements, including the attentive observation of the inmates, their gestures and, of course, their expressions. In many cases, the configuration of the clinical record acquires the form of a short novella. In some others, in which those who are mad are quoted directly, we are tempted to believe that we may hear their inner voices. In both cases, there is little doubt that the cultural and medical configuration of madness requires not just actors and directors but also a plot, a stage, costumes, props, scenography and, of course, an audience. To explore these theatrical forms, I examine in detail one of the clinical cases reported by Leuret, chief physician for the mentally ill at the prison of Bicêtre. This gives me the opportunity to look at the elements of theatricality included in the clinical reports, but also at the performative nature of emotional states. I claim that the interplay between emotions and clinical conditions was at the core of the pathologization of passions that took place in the early nineteenth century.
Publisher version (URL)https://doi.org/10.3366/cult.2019.0184
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