'A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason' by Michel Foucault (1961): 'The Great Fear'

A selection from the chapter ('The Great Fear') from Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique ('Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason') by Michel Foucault, 1961, which draws upon both English translations.
  • For a selection from the opening chapter, Stultifera Navis ('The Ship of Fools'), see here.

  • For a selection from the second chapter, La grand renfermement ('The Great Confinement'), see here.

Note: footnotes have yet to be added.

Everything that morality and religion, everything that a clumsy society has stifled in man, revives in the castle of murders. (Histoire de la folie)

[Work in Progress]

Part 3: Introduction:
'One afternoon, there I was, watching carefully and speaking little, listening as little as I could, when I was accosted by one of the strangest people in this land, where God knows there is no shortage of such fellows. He was a mixture of loftiness, baseness, good sense and unreason.'
At the moment when doubt faced its greatest dangers, Descartes became aware that he could not be mad - though he was to acknowledge for a long time to come, up until the evil genius hypothesis, that all the powers of unreason kept vigil around his thought. But as a philosopher, setting out to doubt everything in a systematic fashion, he could not be 'one of those insane persons'. But Rameau's Nephew knew quite well - and among his fleeting certainties, this was the most obstinate - that he was mad. 'Before beginning, he heaved a profound sigh and raised his hands to his forehead; then he regained his composure and said: "I should tell you that I am ignorant, mad, impertinent, and lazy." '
Unreason [in him] is entirely on the level of the futile madness of men. It is, perhaps, nothing other than that mirage.
What then is the significance of the figure of unreasonable existence embodied in Rameau's Nephew, which was still secret for his contemporaries, but decisive for our retrospective examination?
This is an existence that stretches far back in time, taking in very ancient figures and, among others, and idea of buffoonery that recalls the Middle Ages, and also announces the most modern forms of unreason, those that are the contemporaries of Nerval, Nietzsche and Antonin Artaud. [...] Rameau's Nephew... needs to be investigated as a shortened paradigm of history. And given that in an instant it illuminates like a bolt of lightening the great line that stretches from the Ship of Fools to the last words of Nietzsche and perhaps Artaud's cries of rage, we should try to understand all that this character contains, and see how reason, madness and unreason are confronted in Diderot's text, and examine the new links that grew up between them.
So the character of the madman reappears in Le Neveu de Rameau. A reappearance in clownish form. Like the fool of the Middle Ages, he lives among the forms of reason, slightly marginal no doubt in that he is not at all like the others, but still integrated in that he is there as a thing, at the disposal of reasonable people, a possession to be shown off and shunted around. He is owned like an object. But he himself immediately denounces the equivocal nature of that possession. For if for reason he is an object to be appropriated, then it must be that reason has need of him. [...] Without the madman, reason would be deprived of its reality, and would be empty monotony, bored with itself, an animal desert constantly confronted with its own contradiction: 'Now that they no longer have me, what do they do? They're as bored as dogs... ' [ ] But a reason that is only itself when it possesses madness can no longer define itself as being in immediate identity with itself, and alienates itself in that appurtenance: 'A man who would be wise should have no fool, so anyone who has a fool is not wise; and if he's not wise, he's a fool; perhaps, even if he was king, he would be the fool of his fool.' Unreason becomes the reason of reason- to the extent that reason only recognises it as a possession.
What started out as mere clowning, in the derisory figure of the unwanted guest, reveals, in the final analysis, an imminent power of derision. The adventure of Rameau's Nephew recounts the necessary instability and the ironic reversal of a form of judgment that denounces unreason as being exterior and inessential to its workings. Unreason slowly creeps back to that which condemns it, imposing a form of retrograde servitude upon it, for a wisdom that believes it can form a pure relationship of judgment and definition of madness- 'that man is a madman' - has from the outset set up a relationship of possession and obscure belonging: 'that man is my madman', in that I am reasonable enough to recognize his madness, and that recognition is the mark, sign and almost the emblem of my reason. Reason cannot report the presence of madness without compromising itself in a relationship of ownership. Unreason is not outside reason, but precisely in it, invested and possessed by it, turned into an object: for reason, it is what is most interior and also most transparent, that which is offered to the gaze more than any other thing.
Thus the triumph of madness again comes about through a double return- the flow of unreason back towards reason, which only assures its certainty through its possession of madness, and a return towards an experience where wisdom and madness are indefinitely intertwined: 'not being mad would be being mad through another trick that madness played'.
In these few pages by Diderot, the relationship between reason and unreason takes on a radical new face. The destiny of madness in the modern world is strangely prefigured here.
At first sight, it is tempting to classify Rameau's Nephew among the ancient lineage of fools and clowns, and restore to him all the powers of irony with which those figures had been entrusted. Does he not also play the role of an insouciant operator of truth, long common in the theatre but profoundly forgotten by classicism? Does the truth not often shine out in the wake of his impertinence? Such madmen:
...break down the fastidious conformity that our education, social convention, good behaviour and proprieties introduce. If a madman appears in company, he is like a yeast that ferments, restoring to everyone a portion of their natural identity. He shakes and stirs everything up, he brings praise and blame, he reveals who is good and he unmasks rogues. [ ]
 Rameau's Nephew is hungry and says so. All that is voracious and shameless in his character.... is not a hypocrisy that finally decides to reveal its secrets, for his secret is precisely in not being able to be hypocritical.
The worst of it is the contrived postures into which we are coerced by the foce of necessity. A man in need doesn't walk like the others, but jumps and squirms, or crawls and drags himself along, and spends his whole life switching from one posture to another.

'I must say that what you call a beggar's pantomime is the hurly burly of life on Earth.'

To be oneself that noise, that music, that spectacle, that comedy, to realise oneself as both a thing and an illusory thing, and thus to be not simply a thing but also void and nothingness, to be the absolute emptiness of the absolute plenitude that fascinates from the outside, to be the circular, voluble vertigo of that nothingness and that being, to be at once the total abolition that is an enslaved consciousness and the supreme glory that is a sovereign consciousness- that no doubt is the meaning of Rameau's Nephew... . 

After Descartes, it is no longer necessary to traverse courageously the uncertainties of delirium, dreams and illusions, and it is no longer necessary to overcome once and for all the perils of unreason: rather, it is from the depths of unreason that reason can be interrogated, and what appears once more is the possibility of regaining the essence of the world in the dizzying spin of a unifying delirium, in an illusion equivalent to the truth, that brings together the being and non-being of the real as one.

A tragic confrontation between need and illusion in an oneiric mode... , the delirium of Rameau's Nephew is also an ironic repetition of the world, its destructive reconstitution in a theatre of illusion:

shouting, singing, twirling like a man possessed, acting at the same time all the roles of all the male and female dancers and singers, a whole orchestra, an entire opera, dividing himself into twenty different roles, running around in circles, before suddenly stopping like a man possessed, his eyes wild, foaming at the mouth... he cried, shouted and sighed, he looked moved, tranquil and furious; he was a woman fainting in agony, a miserable creature filled with despair, a temple that rose up, the birds fell silent with the setting sun... he was night with its darkness, he was shadows, he was silence.

Unreason does not reappear as the furtive presence of the other world, but right here, in the burgeoning transcendence of any act of expression, from the source of language itself, in the initial and final moment where man is suddenly exterior to himself, gathering into his intoxication all that is most interior to the world. Unreason no longer wears the strange faces that the Middle Ages recognized, but the imperceptible mask of the familiar and the identical. Unreason is at once the world itself and the same world, separated from itself by the thin surface of pantomime. Its powers are no longer that of a transport to an elsewhere, and its role is no longer to reveal the eruption of something that is radically other: instead, it forces the world to revolve around a circle of sameness.
But in this vertigo, where the truth of the world is only maintained within an absolute void, man meets also the ironic perversion of his own truth, at the moment when it passes from the dreams of interiority to the forms of exchange. Unreason then takes on the form of a new evil genius - no longer one who exiles man from the truth of the world, but one who brings mystification and clarity at the same time, who enchants to the point of extreme disenchantment the truth about the self that man has entrusted to his hand, his face and his language; an evil genius who operates not when man desires to accede to the truth, but when he wishes to give back to the world his own truth, and when, projected into the drunkenness of the senses where he loses himself, he is left 'immobile, stupid and astonished'. The possibility of the evil genius no longer lodges in perception, but in expression, and the supreme irony is to see man at the mercy of the derision of the immediate and the sensible, alienated in them through the mediation that he is.
...in all post-Hegelian thought, man moves from certainty to the truth through the work of the mind and of reason, and yet Diderot had long made it clear that men are constantly sent back by reason towards the non-true truth of the immediate... .

Half remaining in the shadows, this experience of unreason changes little from Rameau's Nephew up until Raymond Roussel and Antonin Artaud. But for that continuity to be demonstrated, it must be freed from the pathological connotations it has been assigned. [...] ...the experience of Rameau's Nephew... demonstrates all that [submerged unreason] contains of the drunkeness of the sensible, the fascination with the immediate, and the painful irony where the solitude of delirium originates. [...] ...this is perhaps one of the fundamental traits of our culture- it is impossible to remain in a decisive and indefinitely resolved fashion at the distance specific to unreason. For it must be forgotten and abolished no sooner than it is measured, in the vertigo of the sensible or the confinement of madness.

The nineteenth century, in all its inflexible seriousness, rent the indivisible domain designated by the irony of Rameau's Nephew, and drew an abstract frontier through that former unity, demarcating the realm of the pathological. In the mid-eighteenth century that unity had been briefly illuminated by a bolt of lightening, but it was more than half a century again before anyone dared revisit such a reigion. After Holderlin, Nerval, Nietzsche, Van Gogh, Raymond Roussel and Artaud ventured there, with tragic consequences- i.e., to the point at which the alienation of the experience of unreason pushed them into the abandonment of madness. [...] What is this power that petrifies all those who dare look upon its face, condemning to madness all those who have tried the test of Unreason?

The Great Fear. 

The eighteenth century was unable to understand the full meaning of Le Neveu de Rameau. [...] Curiously, the unreason that had been relegated to the distance of confinement suddenly reappeared, fraught with new dangers and as if endowed with a new power of interrogation. Yet what the eighteenth century first noticed about it was not the secret interrogation, but only the social effects: the torn clothing, the arrogance in rags, the tolerated insolence whose disturbing powers were silenced by an amused indulgence. The eighteenth century might not have recognized itself in Rameau's Nephew, but it was entirely present in the I that was his interlocutor, the 'keeper' so to speak, who showed reticent amusement and harboured a deep anxiety: for this was the first time since the Great Confinement that the madman was once again a character on the social stage; it was the first time that anyone had entered into conversation with him, and that he was questioned anew. Unreason reappeared as a social type, which is not much; but it nonetheless reappeared, and slowly took its place in the familiar social landscape. It was there some ten years before the Revolution, when Mercier found such a figure, without any apparent astonishment:

Go into any cafe, and sooner or later someone will confide in you in calm, measured tones: 'You couldn't begin to imagine, Monsieur, the Government's ingratitude toward me, and its blindness to its own interests! For thirty years I have neglected my own affairs; I have shut myself up in my study, meditating, dreaming, calculating; I have devised a project to pay all the State's debts; another to enrich the King and assure him an income of 400 million; another to bury the English forever, may God smite their name... When, utterly devoted to these vast operations that demand all the application of genius, I was distracted by domestic problems, some nagging creditors kept me in prison for three years... . But, Monsieur, you see how patriotism is valued- I die unknown and a martyr for my country.' [  ]

At a distance, such characters form a circle around Rameau's Nephew; they do not have his grandeur, and they can only appear akin to him in that they share some picturesque details.
And yet they are a little more than a social type, a caricatural silhouette. They contain something that concerns and touches the unreason of the eighteenth century. [...] As with the libertine, the debauchee, or the ruffian of the end of the seventeenth century, it is difficult to say whether they are mad, sick, or criminal. Mercier himself does not quite know what status to give them:

In Paris there are thus some totally honest men, economists or anti-economists, who have a warm heart and hold dear the interest of the public at large, but who are nonetheless crackpots, i.e., are very short sighted, and understand neither the century that they inhabit nor the men they must deal with; they are harder to bear than fools, because with their money and their false knowledge they start from impossible principles and reason falsly therefrom.

Such 'planners of crackpot projects' really did exist, forming a circle around the reason of the philosophers and all their reforming projects, their plans and their constitutions, providing a muffled  accompaniment of unreason: the rationality of the age of Reason found in them a distorting mirror, a sort of harmless caricature. But is it not essential that in a movement of amused indulgence, a personage of unreason is allowed back into daylight, precisely when it was believed to be most deeply hidden in the space of confinement? It was as though classical reason once again admitted a proximity, a relation, a quasi-resemblance between itself and the images of unreason. As if, at the moment of its triumph, reason elicited and permitted to drift on the margins of order a character whose mask it had fashioned in derision- a sort of double in which it both recognised and repudiated itself. 

Yet fear and anxiety were not far off: in the reaction of confinement, they reappeared with redoubled strength. ...the territory of confinement had taken on powers of its own, and had become in its turn a breeding ground of evil, which it could spread of its own accord, instituting a new reign of terror.
Suddenly, in the space of a few years in the mid-eighteenth century, a fear arose- a fear formulated in medical terms, but deep down animated by a whole moral mythology. People were in dread of a mysterious disease that spread, it was said, from the houses of confinement and would soon threaten the cities. [...] The great image of medieval horror rose up once again... . The house of confinement was no longer simply the lazar house at the city's edge, but became itself a form of leprosy that confronted the town:

A terrible ulcer on the body politic, an ulcer that is wide, deep and draining, an image repugnant to the gaze. Even the air of the place, which can be smelt half a mile away, is enough to tell you that you are approaching a place of violence, an asylum of degredation and misfortune. [  ]
Many of these high places of confinement were built on the same spot where lepers had previously been kept, and it was as though, across the centuries, the new tenants had received the contagion. They revived the blazon and the meaning that had been borne in those places:
This leprosy is too powerful for the capital! Bicetre is a word that no one can utter without a feeling of repugnance, horror or scorn... . It has become a receptacle for all the most monstrous and vile things to be found in society. [  ]
The evil that men had tried to exclude through confinement reappeared, and a great public fear, in a highly fantastical form, was its consequence.

What classicism had locked up was not simply unreason in the abstract, where the mad, the libertine, the criminal and the sick all intermingled, but also a prodigious reserve of fantasy, a sleepy world of monsters, which were believed to have sunk back into the Bosch night from which they had first emerged. It was as though a new and totally opposed cultural role had been added to the fortresses of confinement, with their social role of segregation and purification. At the moment when on the surface of society they separated reason and unreason, they also kept, in depth, images where both seemed to mingle and fuse. They had long functioned like a great memory that had kept silent, and lurking in their shadows was the dark power of an imaginary that many hoped had been exorcised for good. Erected by the new classical order, they had preserved, against it and against the times, forbidden shapes that were transmitted intact from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

But the images which broke free at the end of the eighteenth century were not identical to those which the seventeenth century had attempted to efface. Something had happened, in the darkness, which freed them from the nether world where the Renaissance and the Middle Ages had found them; they had lodged in the hearts, desires and imagination of men; and instead of signalling an abrupt eruption of insanity, they seethed as the strange contradiction of human appetites: the complicity of murder and desire, cruelty and the thirst for suffering, sovereignty and slavery, insult and humiliation. The great cosmic conflict of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, of which the Insane told the narrative, was so displaced that by the end of the classical age it had become the unmediated dialectics of the heart. Sadism is not a name finally given to a practice as old as Eros: it is a massive cultural fact that appeared precisely at the close of the eighteenth century, constituting one of the great conversions in the Western imagination – unreason transformed into the delirium of the heart, the madness of desire, and an insane dialogue between love and death in the limitless presumption of appetite. The appearance of Sadism comes at a moment when unreason, emerging from a century and a half of silence, reappears not as a figure of the world, nor as an image, but as discourse and desire. And it is no coincidence that Sadism, as an individual phenomenon that bears the name of a single man, is born from and within confinement, and that confinement figures so strongly in an oeuvre ordered around images of the Fortress, the Cell, the Dungeon, the Convent, the inaccessible Island that seem to be the natural places of unreason. Neither is it a coincidence that the whole fantasy literature of madness and horror contemporary with Sade’s work takes place primarily in the high places of confinement. This sudden conversion in the late eighteenth century of the Western memory, and the possibility of finding familiar figures from the late Middle Ages, distorted and bearing new meanings, was authorised and enabled by the subsistence of the fantastic in the very places where unreason had been reduced to silence.

Already we are familiar with the concern generated by "nervous diseases," and the awareness that man becomes more delicate in proportion as he perfects himself. As the century advanced, the concern became more pressing, the warnings more solemn. Already Raulin had observed that "since the birth of medicine... these illnesses have multiplied, have bcome more dangerous, more complicated, more problematical and difficult to cure." By Tissot's time, this general impression became a firm belief, a sort of medical dogma: nervous diseases

were formerly much less frequent than they are nowadays; and this for two reasons: one, that men were in general more robust, and less frequently ill; there were fewer diseases of any kind; the other, that the causes which produce nervous diseases in especial have multiplied in a greater proportion, in recent times, than the other general causes of illness, some which even seem to have diminished... . I do not hesitate to say that if they were once the rarest, they are today the most frequent.
...the awareness of the fragility of reason, so common in the sixteenth century, and the knowledge that it could be definitively compromised at any moment by madness, was once again a common preoccupation. Matthey, a physician from Geneva much influenced by Rousseau, had the following warning for men of reason:

Do not glory in your state, wise and civilized men: the so-called wisdom with which you flatter yourselves can be shattered in an instant. An unexpected event, or a sudden, intense emotion of the soul can send even the greatest or most reasonable man into a frenzy, or turn him into an idiot in a moment.

The threat of madness took its place once more among the most pressing matters of the century.

To the classical mind, madness could easily be the effect of an external 'milieu'.... : just as the access to the truth of the world, after the fall, had to pass through the tortuous and often distorting medium of the senses, so the possession of reason depended to some extent on the 'physical state of the machine', and all the mechanical effects that might act upon it.

But a new notion was to emerge from this global apprehension of a dependence. Owing to the growing concern, the link with the constants or the great circular patterns of the universe, i.e., the theme of madness as linked to the seasons of the world, was slowly supplemented with the idea of a dependence on a particular elements of the cosmos.  [...] ... it is as though what emerged from the cosmic whole and its seasonal stability was an independent, relative and mobile element, subject to constant progressions and continuous acceleration... . From the macrocosm.... something resembling that which the nineteenth century was later to term a 'milieu' starts to emerge.

1 Madness and freedom. For a long time, certain forms of melancholia were considered specifically English; this was a fact in
medicine and a constant in literature. Montesquieu contrasted Roman suicide, which was a form of moral and political behavior, the desired effect of a concerted education, with English suicide, which had to be considered as an illness since "the English kill themselves without any apparent reason for doing so; they kill themselves in the very lap of happiness." It is here that the milieu plays its role, for if happiness in the eighteenth century is part of the order of nature and reason, unhappiness, or at least whatever deters from happiness without reason, must be part of another order. This order was sought first in the excesses of the climate, in nature's deviation from its equilibrium and its happy mean (temperate climates are caused by nature; intemperate climates by the milieu). But this was not sufficient to explain la maladie anglaise; already Cheyne had declared that wealth, refined food, the abundance all the inhabitants enjoyed, the life of pleasure and ease the richest society led, were at the origin of such nervous disorders. Increasingly, a political and economic explanation was sought, in which wealth, progress, institutions appear as the determining element of madness. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Spurzheim made a synthesis of all these analyses in one of the last texts devoted to them. Madness, "more frequent in England than anywhere else," is merely the penalty of the liberty that reigns there, and of the wealth universally enjoyed. Freedom of conscience entails more dangers than authority and despotism. "Religious sentiments . . . exist without restriction; every individual is entitled to preach to anyone who will listen to him," and by listening to such different opinions, "minds are disturbed in the search for truth." Dangers of indecision, of an irresolute attention, of a vacillating soul! The danger, too, of disputes, of passions, of obstinacy: "Everything meets with opposition, and opposition excites the feelings; in religion, in politics, in science, as in everything, each man is permitted to form an opinion; but he must expect to meet with opposition." Nor does so much liberty permit a man to master time; every man is left to his own uncertainty, and the State abandons all to their fluctuations: "The English are a nation of merchants; a mind always occupied with speculations is continually agitated by fear and hope. Egotism, the soul of commerce, easily becomes envious and summons other faculties to its aid." Besides, this liberty is far from true natural liberty: on all sides it is constrained and harried by demands opposed to the most legitimate desires of individuals: this is the liberty of interests, of coalitions, of financial combinations, not of man, not of minds and hearts. For financial reasons, families are here more tyrannical than anywhere else: only wealthy girls are able to marry; "the others are reduced to other means of satisfaction that ruin the body and derange the manifestations of the soul. The same cause favors libertinage, which predisposes to madness." A mercantile liberty thus appears as the element in which opinion can never arrive at the truth, in which the immediate is necessarily subject to contradiction, in which time escapes the mastery and certainty of the seasons, in which man is dispossessed of his desires by the laws of interest. In short, liberty, far from putting man in possession of himself, ceaselessly alienates him from his essence and his world; it fascinates him in the absolute exteriority of other people and of money, in the irreversible inferiority of passion and unfulfilled desire. Between man and the happiness of a world in which he recognizes himself, between man and a nature in which he finds his truth, the liberty of the mercantile state is "milieu": and to this very degree it is the determining element of madness. When Spurzheim was writing—at the height of the Holy Alliance, during the restoration of the authoritarian monarchies—liberalism was readily blamed for all the sins of the world's madness: "It is singular to see that man's greatest desire, which is his personal liberty, has its disadvantages as well." But for us, the point of such an analysis is not its critique of liberty, but its very employment of the notion that
designates for Spurzheim the non-natural milieu in which the psychological and physiological mechanisms of madness are favored, amplified, and multiplied.

2 Madness, religion and time. Religious beliefs prepare a sort of imaginary landscape, an illusory milieu favorable to every hallucination and every delirium.

3 Madness, civilization and sensibility. Civilization, in a general way, constitutes a milieu favorable to the development of madness. If the progress of knowledge dissipates error, it also has the effect of propagating a taste and even a mania for study; the life of the library, abstract speculations, the perpetual agitation of the mind without the exercise of the body, can have the most disastrous effects. Tissot explains that in the human body it is those parts subject to frequent work which are first strengthened and hardened; among laborers, the muscles and fibers of the arms harden, giving them their physical strength and the good health they enjoy until an advanced age; "among men of letters, the brain hardens; often they become incapable of connecting their ideas," and so are doomed to dementia. The more abstract or complex knowledge becomes, the greater the risk of madness. A body of knowledge still close to what is most immediate in the senses, requiring, according to Pressavin, only a little work on the part of the inner sense and organs of the brain, provokes only a sort of physiological happiness: "The sciences whose objects are easily perceived by our senses, which offer the soul agreeable relations because of the harmony of their consonance . . . perform throughout the entire bodily machine a light activity which is beneficial to all the functions." On the contrary, a knowledge too poor in these sensuous relations, too free with regard to the immediate, provokes a tension of the brain alone which disequilibrates the whole body; sciences "of things whose relationships are difficult to grasp because they are not readily available to our senses, or because their too complicated relations oblige us to expend great application in their study, present the soul with an exercise that greatly fatigues the inner sense by a too continuous tension upon that organ." Knowledge thus forms around feeling a milieu of abstract relationships where man risks losing the physical happiness in which his relation to the world is usually established. Knowledge multiplies, no doubt, but its cost increases too. Is it certain that there are more wise men today? One thing, at least, is certain: "there are more people who have the infirmities of wisdom." The milieu of knowledge grows faster than knowledge itself.
But it is not only knowledge that detaches man from feeling; it is sensibility itself: a sensibility that is no longer controlled by the movements of nature, but by all the habits, all the demands of social life. Modern man—but woman more than man—turns day into night and night into day:

The moment at which our women rise in Paris is far removed from that which nature has indicated; the best hours of the day have Slipped away; the purest air has disappeared; no one has benefited from it. The vapors, the harmful exhalations, attracted by the sun's heat, are already rising in the atmosphere; this is the hour that beauty chooses to rise. [ ]

This disorder of the senses continues in the theater, where illusions are cultivated, where vain passions and the most fatal movements of the soul are aroused by artifice; women especially enjoy these spectacles "that inflame and arouse them"; their souls "are so strongly shaken that this produces a commotion in their nerves, fleeting, in truth, but whose consequences are usually serious; the  momentary loss of their senses, the tears they shed at the performances of our modern tragedies are the least accidents that can result from them." Novels form a still more artificial milieu, and are more dangerous to a disordered sensibility; the  verisimilitude modern authors attempt to produce, and all the art they employ to imitate truth, only give more prestige to the violent and dangerous sentiments they seek to awaken in their female readers:

In the earliest epochs of French gallantry and manners, the less perfected minds of women were content with facts and events as marvelous as they were unbelievable; now they demand believable facts yet sentiments so marvelous that their own minds are disturbed and confounded by them; they then seek, in all that surrounds them, to realize the marvels by which they are enchanted; but everything seems to them without sentiment and without life, because they are trying to find what does not exist in nature. [ ]

The novel constitutes the milieu of perversion, par excellence, of all sensibility; it detaches the soul from all that is immediate and natural in feeling and leads it into an imaginary world of sentiments violent in proportion to their unreality, and less controlled by the gentle laws of nature;

The existence of so many authors has produced a host of readers, and continued reading generates every nervous complaint; perhaps of all the causes that have harmed women's health, the principal one has been the infinite multiplication of novels in the last hundred years ... a girl who at ten reads instead of running will, at twenty, be a woman with the vapors and not a good nurse.

Slowly, and still in a very scattered fashion, the eighteenth century constituted, around its awareness of madness and of its threatening spread, a whole new order of concepts. In the landscape of unreason where the sixteenth century had located it, madness concealed a meaning and an origin that were obscurely moral; its secrecy related it to sin, and the animality imminently perceived in it did not make it, paradoxically, more innocent. In the second half of the eighteenth century, madness was no longer recognized in what brings man closer to an immemorial fall or an indefinitely present animality; it was, on the contrary, situated in those distances man takes in regard to himself, to his world, to all that is offered by the immediacy of nature; madness became possible in that milieu where man's relations with his feelings, with time, with others, are altered; madness was possible because of everything which, in man's life and development, is a break with the immediate. Madness was no longer of the order of nature or of the Fall, but of a new order, in which men began to have a presentiment of history, and where, in an obscure, shared origin, the 'alienation' of physicians and the 'alienation' of philosophers started to take shape.

In the analyses that we have just evoked, these forces do not designate what in nature can constitute the environment of a living being, and neither are they a place of adaptation or of reciprocal influence and regulation. They are not even the space in which a living being can deploy and impose the norms of its existence. The ensemble of these forces, if one unearths the significance that the thought of the eighteenth century obscurely placed upon them, constitutes precisely what in cosmos was opposed to nature. The milieu upset time in the return of the seasons, in the alternation of day and night; it spoiled the realm of the sensible and its calm echoes in man, through the vibrations of a sensibility only attuned to the excesses of the imagination; and it distanced men from their immediate satisfactions, obliging them to submit to laws of interest that prevented him from hearing the voice of his own desire. The milieu began where nature began to die in man. Rousseau had already demonstrated how nature had ended, and how the human milieu had taken its place, with the cosmic catastrophe that was the collapse of the continents. A milieu was not the positivity of nature such as it was offered to living being, but rather the negativity in which nature in its plenitude was withdrawn from the living being; and in that retreat, in that non-nature, something was substituted for nature, which was the plenitude of artifice, an illusory world that announced the antiphysis to come.
And it was precisely there that the possibility of madness took on its full significance. The seventeenth century discovered it in the loss of truth: an entirely negative possibility, where the only thing in question was that faculty of waking and attention in man that was not nature but freedom. The late eighteenth century began to identify the possibility of madness with the constitution of a milieu: madness was lost nature, misplaced sensibility, the wanderings of desire, time dispossessed of its measure. It was immediacy lost in the infinity of mediations. And facing it was nature, madness abolished, a happy return of existence to its closest truth.

Milieu therefore plays a role that is almost a mirror image of the role previously taken by animality. In earlier times there was the lurking presence of the beast, the point through which madness, in its rage, could erupt in man; the deepest point, the ultimate point of natural existence was also the point where the counter-natural was exalted– human nature being to itself, immediately, its own counter-nature. But at the end of the eighteenth century, animality had come to be associated with the tranquillity and happiness to be found in nature, and it was by escaping from the immediacy of natural life at the moment when a milieu is constituted that man opens himself to the possibility of a counter-nature, exposing himself to the perils of madness. The animal could not be mad, or at least it was not in its animality that its madness could originate. It was therefore quite natural that primitive men were the least disposed to madness:

The order of labourers is easily superior in that respect to the social stratum that provides artisans, but unfortunately far inferior to what it was in times gone by, when the people was solely constituted of labourers; a state only found in a few savage peoples, who are strangers to sickness and disease, and die almost exclusively in accidents or of old age.

In the early nineteenth century, Rush noted that in America ‘after much inquiry, [he had] not been able to find a single instance of fatuity among the Indians, and but few instances of melancholy and madness’. Similarly, Humboldt had ‘never heard of a single alienated man among the wild Indians of southern America’. Madness was made possible by all that the milieu repressed in man of his animal nature.
From that point on, madness was linked to a certain form of becoming in man. For as long as madness was experienced as a cosmic menace or the imminence of the animal, it lurked in the shadows around man, or in the depths of his heart, as a perpetual, immobile presence; its cycles were a return, and each appearance in fact a reappearance. But now madness had a temporal starting point, even if that was only to be understood in a mythic sense; it followed a linear vector, which indicated an infinite progression. As the milieu constituted by and around man grew ever denser, the risks of madness grew. The time within which they unfolded became an infinite openness, a time of multiplication and growth. Madness then became the other side of progress: by multiplying mediations, civilisation offered men ever-increasing means to become insane. Matthey did little more than sum up a general feeling common to many men in the eighteenth century when he wrote at the time of the Bourbon restoration that:

The greatest miseries of man in society, as well as his most numerous pleasures, are born out of the excellence of his nature, of his perfectibility and the excessive development of his physical and moral faculties. The multitude of his needs, his desires and his passions are all the result of civilisation, the source of vice and virtue, of all good and all evil combined. It is from the heart of the opulence and luxury of city life that groans of misery and cries of rage and fury are heard. Bicêtre and Bethlehem are proof of that.

That simple dialectic of good and evil..., reason and unreason is a familiar feature of the eighteenth century, but its importance was decisive in the history of madness. It overturned the temporal perspective against which madness was commonly measured, and placed it within the indefinite unfolding of a time of which the point of origin was fixed but the end constantly deferred. It placed madness within an irreversible duration, breaking its cosmic cycles and obliterating the fascination with the past fault. It promised that madness would one day take over the world, not in the apocalyptic form of the triumph of the Insane the fifteenth century had imagined, but in a continuous, pernicious and progressive manner that had no foreseeable end-figure, growing ever more youthful from the very ageing of the world around it. What came into being just before the Revolution was one of the great obsessions of the nineteenth century, and before long it had a name: ‘degeneration’.
Obviously, one of the most common themes in Graeco-Latin culture is the idea that children no longer uphold the values of their parents, this going hand in hand with a nostalgia for some antique wisdom, the secrets of which are lost in the madness of the modern world. [...] Degeneration was no longer a slippery moral slope, but was determined by the lines of force of the human milieu, or by the laws of physical heredity. It was not because they forgot time, understood as the memory of the immemorial, that men became degenerate, but rather because time grew heavy within them, becoming more pressing and more present, like a sort of material memory of the body, totalising the past and detaching existence from its natural immediacy:

Children bear the consequences of the ills of their fathers. Our great-grandparents were the first to stray from the path of a healthy way of life, and our grandparents were weakened accordingly, bringing their own children with even less rigour, who in their turn had children who were weaker still. We, the fourth generation, now only know of the strength and health of our eighty-year-old forebears by hearsay.

In what Tissot calls ‘degeneration’ [dégénération], there was little of what the nineteenth century was to term ‘degeneracy’ [dégénérescence]. It did not yet have the status of a species, there was no fatal tendency to return to more rudimentary forms of life and organisation, and there was as yet no hope placed in a regenerating individual. Yet Morel, in his Traité de la Dégénérescence, begins with the teaching he received from the eighteenth century. For him, as was already the case with Tissot, men degenerated from a primitive type, not as part of a spontaneous process of decay or a gravity inherent in all living matter, but more probably as the result of ‘the influence of social institutions that run against nature’, or even as a result of ‘the decaying of the morality of nature’. From Tissot to Morel, the same lesson is repeated, lending the human milieu a power of alienation, made up essentially of the memory of everything that within it mediates nature. Madness, and all its powers that were multiplied by the ages, lay not in man but in the milieu that he inhabited. [...] The death of the individual is exterior to him, like his madness and his alienation; it was in that exteriority, the weighty memory of things, that men lost their truth. And how better to regain it than in another memory? A memory which could be either a reconciliation in the interiority of knowledge, or the total rupture and plunge into the absolute of time, the immediate youthfulness of barbarism: ‘Either reasoned behaviour, which is perhaps too much to hope for, or a succession of barbaric centuries that no one dares desire.’
In this reflection on madness,58 and the still-nascent elaboration of the concept of the milieu, the eighteenth century strangely anticipated what were to become in the age that followed the guiding themes in all thinking about men. And in a light still dim, on the fringes of philosophy and medicine, psychology and history, with a naivety that all the disquiet of the nineteenth century and indeed our own age have yet to dispel, it proposed a very rudimentary concept of alienation, which allowed the human milieu to be defined as the negativity of man, in which the concrete a priori of all forms of madness were to be discerned.

Madness therefore entered a new cycle. [...] Madness, for the nineteenth century, was to have quite a different meaning: by its nature, and through everything that opposed it to nature, it was intimately connected to history.
It is easy for us to get the impression that the positivist conception of madness is physiological, naturalist and anti-historical, and that it took psychoanalysis, sociology, and nothing less than the ‘psychology of cultures’ to bring to light the links that the pathology of history might secretly have with history itself. But in fact this was already quite clearly established at the end of the eighteenth century: from that point on, madness was clearly inscribed in the temporal destiny of man, and was even the consequence and the price of the fact that men, unlike animals, had
history. The writer who noted, in an extraordinarily ambiguous phrase, that ‘the history of madness is the counterpart of the history of reason’, had read neither Janet, nor Freud nor Brunschvicg; he was a contemporary of Claude Bernard, who posited what seemed to him to be an obvious equation: ‘to each age its own variety of madness’. Few periods had a more acute consciousness of the historical relativity of madness than the opening years of the nineteenth century... .

The notion of madness, such as it existed during the nineteenth century, took shape inside a historical consciousness, and that in two ways: first because madness, in its constant acceleration, forms something like a derivative of history; and second because its forms are determined by the figures of becoming. Madness, as it was then perceived or at least experienced, was relative to time, and essential to the temporality of man, more fundamentally historical, in short, than it is for us today.
Yet that relation to history was to be quickly forgotten. Freud, with difficulty, and in a manner that was perhaps not really radical, was later obliged to free it from evolutionism. This was because this relation, in the course of the nineteenth century, turned into a social and moral conception that betrayed it entirely. Madness was no longer conceived of as the counterpart of history, but as the hidden face of society. In Morel’s work, we can see the clearest illustration of this reversal of historical analysis into social criticism, taking madness out of the movement of history and making it an obstacle to its normal flow and its promises of reconciliation. For him, its most fertile breeding ground is poverty, whereas for the previous century it had been riches, or progress. The milieu most favourable to its proliferation is ‘dangerous or insalubrious professions, and habitations that are unhealthy or overpopulated’, compounded with various intoxications.

If one joins to these generally poor conditions the profoundly demoralising influence exerted by poverty, a lack of education, a lack of foresight, the abuse of alcohol, venereal excesses and insufficient food, one begins to have an idea of the complex circumstances that tend to modify in an unfavourable manner the temperament of the poor.

Madness thus eluded all that might be historical in human becoming, and instead took on meaning in social morality. It became the stigma of a class that had abandoned the forms of bourgeois ethics... . [...] In a word, the fear of madness, which for the eighteenth century was the fear of the consequences of its own becoming, was slowly transformed in the nineteenth century, to the point that it wound up as an obsession about the contradictions that nevertheless guaranteed that its structures remained in place. Madness became the paradoxical condition of the continuation of the bourgeois order, to which from the outside it nevertheless constituted the most immediate threat. It was thus perceived both as an indispensable degeneracy – as it was the condition of the eternity of bourgeois reason – and as an accidental or contingent forgetting of the principles of morality and religion, as it was necessary to render futile, by judging it, that which is in immediate contradiction with an order whose end could not be foreseen. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, therefore, that historical consciousness of madness, which had been kept alive in the age of ‘militant positivism’, fell into a deep sleep.
This passage through history, however precarious and forgotten it might be now, was nonetheless a decisive moment for the experience of madness common to the nineteenth century. What appeared was a new relation to madness, more immediate in some senses, but more external as well. In the classical experience... the consciousness of madness necessarily implied an experience of the truth. Madness was error par excellence, the absolute loss of truth. At the end of the eighteenth century, a new outline of madness was becoming discernible, where man no longer lost the truth but lost his truth instead; it was no longer that the laws of the world were suddenly out of reach, but rather that he was severed from the laws of his own essence. Tissot described this new development in the history of madness at the end of the eighteenth century as a forgetting by man of all that had made up his most immediate truth... .

In madness, man is separated from his own truth, and exiled into the immediate presence of surroundings in which he loses himself. When men of the classical age lost the truth, it meant that they were thrown back to an immediacy where their animal nature raged, and the primitive decay that accompanied it was a sure sign of original guilt. But to talk of a madman in the nineteenth century was to single out a man who had abandoned the ground of his own immediate truth and had lost himself.