Human Remains: Medicine, Death, and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Paris

By Jonathan Strauss | Go to book overview

ONE
Medicine and Authority

In 1849, a sergeant François Bertrand was brought before a military tribunal on charges of digging up human corpses and mutilating them. The ensuing trial captured the public imagination. Spectators thronged the court-martial, gasping in horror at the grisly testimony of expert witnesses and the accused himself. The popular press followed the case closely, while contemporary alienists, who treated the alleged crimes as a significant example of mental illness, analyzed their perpetrator in depth. Still, despite all the years that have passed and all the documentation devoted to the trial, a certain mystery still clings to it, for if evidence abounds for the tremendous interest that Bertrand’s case excited, it is less clear why it should have been so fascinating. The medical reports that sought to understand the sergeant’s behavior focused on the difference between destructive and erotic monomanias but made virtually no attempt to explain the significance of the peculiar object of his sexual longings, although it, more than anything else, set his crimes apart. The notion that the dead could be erotically exciting was in this sense a crucial but unexamined element of his case, and it is that desire—or rather

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Human Remains: Medicine, Death, and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Paris
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Note on Translations xi
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Introduction- The Toxic Imagination 1
  • One - Medicine and Authority 16
  • Two - The Medical Uses of Nonsense 46
  • Three - A Hostile Environment 80
  • Four - Death Comes Alive 103
  • Five - Pleasure in Revolt 132
  • Six - Monsters and Artists 169
  • Seven - Abstracting Desire 221
  • Eight - What Abjection Means 258
  • Notes 283
  • Works Cited 359
  • Index 383
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