In the latest number of Revue d’histoire du XIXe siècle, Alexandra Bacopoulos-Viau has published an article entitled La danse des corps figés. Catalepsie et imaginaire médical au XIXe siècle. The abstract reads:
In Psychiatry, wrote Michel Foucault, the 19th century could be characterized as one of convulsions. From the mesmeric crises in its opening years to the spectacular apogee of Charcot’s fin-de-siècle theatre, the patient, in 19th-century Psychiatry, was all too agitated. One imagines a parade of hysterics, epileptics and other neurotics dancing alongside one another, forbidden to speak their ills, demonstrating their excessive irrationality through their gesticulating bodies. Yet for all this talk of contractures and contortions, little has been said by contemporary historians of that other, “frozen” state; that which through hypnotism transformed subjects into statues, and which permeated much of the medical and psychological discourse of that period. Catalepsy: what to make of this immobile condition—pathological stigma or harmless state, mere symptom or full-fledged nosological entity? And how to approach its often disturbing manifestations in the light of prevalent scientific understanding? In this paper we examine the representations of catalepsy in some important but under-studied French 19th-century medical texts before turning to the importance of this condition in the so-called “discovery of the unconscious”. In so doing we wish to shed light on the ambivalent ways through which the medical world dealt with this troubling and often mysterious figure.
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