The Medical Uses of Nonsense

Jonathan Strauss

in Human Remains

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780823233793
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241262 | DOI:

Series: Forms of Living

The Medical Uses of Nonsense

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Recent studies on the rise of the medical profession have concentrated on the treatment of mental illness. This chapter picks up on this scholarship to argue that the very unintelligibility of the insane had a certain utility to the legitimacy of medical discourse. This was a fantasmatic realm, in the sense that madness was believed to force certain rational rules of organization—and dominant discourses—to yield before powerful irrational processes. Doctors were thus using the very opacity of a nonsensical language to establish their own discursive credibility. Some of these features were shared by death, which, while nothing in itself, nonetheless served as a space onto which crucial, extra-social fantasies could be projected. Theories about death therefore played an equally—if not more—important role in giving content and shape to the unknowable and exercized an under-appreciated force in the self-definition of nineteenth-century French society.

Keywords: history of madness; nonsense; death; phantasy; Xavier Bichat

Chapter.  14961 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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