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The Man Who Thought He Was NapoleonToward a Political History of Madness$
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Laure Murat

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226025735

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226025872.001.0001

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Revolutionary Terror, or Losing Head and Mind

Revolutionary Terror, or Losing Head and Mind

(p.23) One Revolutionary Terror, or Losing Head and Mind
The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon

Laure Murat

University of Chicago Press

This chapter analyzes the birth of French psychiatry in conjunction with the invention of the guillotine. While psychiatry invents itself as a new discipline, studying how the body relates to the soul and the brain to the mind, revolutionary terror invents the guillotine, the new “machine of government” that separates the head from the trunk. This coincidence between the political and the medical is not only metaphorical. It can also be read in the lunatic asylums’ registers that report a great number of delusions about beheadings (and erroneous head replacements). As an illustration of the collusion between history and madness, the chapter traces from 1793 onward the motif of the guillotine and its echoes in medical registers and literature of the time, especially in the works that belong to what has been called “frenetic Romanticism.”

Keywords:   beheading, guillotine, Louis XVI, Philippe Pinel, Jean-Baptiste Pussin

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