Sex, Religion, and the Making of Modern Madness: The Eberbach Asylum and Germany Society, 1815-1849

Sex, Religion, and the Making of Modern Madness: The Eberbach Asylum and Germany Society, 1815-1849

Sex, Religion, and the Making of Modern Madness: The Eberbach Asylum and Germany Society, 1815-1849

Sex, Religion, and the Making of Modern Madness: The Eberbach Asylum and Germany Society, 1815-1849

Synopsis

Drawing upon a rich set of asylum patient case records, this book reconstructs the encounter of state officials and medical practitioners with peasant madness and deviancy at a transitional period in German and psychiatry history. Focusing on religious madness, nymphomania, masturbatory insanity, and Jewishness, this study probes the daily encounters in which psychiatric categories were applied, experienced, and resisted in the settings of family, village, and insane asylum. Goldberg's careful examination sheds light on a range of issues concerning gender, sexuality, religious politics, class relations, state-building, and anti-Semitism.

Excerpt

In 1838, an indigent tailor arrived at the Eberbach asylum terrified, dazed, and repeatedly crossing himself. At home before his committal, Martin M. had become violent and been bound and beaten. He had experienced, as he later explained, "an irresistable urge to spit in people's faces and hit them." Now, during his eleven-month incarceration, he incessantly begged for "mercy" from the asylum physicians. Rituals of authority and submission were built-in features of doctor-patient relations in an institution where doctors wielded almost absolute power and where acts of submission were a necessity for any patient who wanted to leave the place. Curiously, Martin M. understood this fact in a language foreign to the medical designs of the asylum -- a language ("mercy") of the prisoner or penitent, of criminal justice or the church, not that of the patient. Martin M., it seems, felt he needed either divine salvation or judicial clemency, not medical treatment.

The treatment of Martin M. in an insane asylum was an innovation of the nineteenth century. Just twenty-five years earlier, such a man would have been left at home to face the punishments of family and community or placed in one of the multifunctional work-, poor-, and madhouses that housed the castoffs of society -- beggars, petty criminals, prostitutes, orphans, the insane, and the infirm. In contrast to these detention institutions, the new asylums of the nineteenth century contained only the mentally ill, with the aim of medically treating and rehabilitating them through methods that affected the mind. The birth of a new medical specialty and a new set of experts -- the alienists, later known as psychiatrists -- thus accompanied the founding of modern insane . . .

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