Madness and Democracy: The Modern Psychiatric Universe

By Marcel Gauchet; Gladys Swain et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
The Conquest of Dissymmetry

Talking Sense, Talking Nonsense

IN PRACTICE, it was exceedingly difficult for therapists to free themselves from the old attitudes and assume fully the new possibilities at the heart of the bond of communication, with all their uncertainties and dangers. One written account in particular offers exemplary testimony to the difficulties. Affecting in its honesty, the text is all the more enlightening in that its author was situated precisely at the crossroads between two periods. He could see clearly what strategy was required and what institutional arrangements were needed, but he was also invincibly held back, in spite of everything, by old reflexes and insurmountable inclinations; he was conscious, moreover, of his own hesitations and fluctuations. Our witness is one of the very few doctors who can be counted among the “pioneers” of the “philanthropic” reform that preceded the Pinelian break: Daquin de Chambéry was a typical representative of provincial enlightenment, but he also stands out as an exception. One of the few practitioners who participated in the network of the Royal Society of Medicine, he was considered progressive, because he was concretely and actively interested in the problem of madness—isolated, in a “remote countryside, as good as lost for the inhabitants of Paris,” as he writes to Vicq d'Azyr, 1 and from where, indeed, his modest voice seems scarcely to have been heard. Writing in 1800, Pinel does not even mention Daquin's Philosophie de la Folie, which appeared in 1791, nor does he ever cite the second edition of 1804, although it is dedicated to him in dithyrambic terms.

To be sure, Daquin is not a striking innovator in essential matters. The image of madness that he continues to provide is even astonishingly archaic in certain respects. He characterizes the insane, for example, as “beings who most often do not even have an inkling of their own existence; most of them do not even think about the needs of daily subsistence or are totally incapable of procuring for themselves things of absolute necessity.” 2 “Man,” he adds, is “degraded in the finest and noblest part of himself … often incapable of receiving the slightest impression from speech, lacking fear of the elements, braving threats, insensitive to the cruelties

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