“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Friday, May 16, 2008

doctors and devils

LI wrote the following post last night. This morning, I woke up and found that there had been several comments left on Amie's post, which make good reading.

So read that instead of this, which is a post pursuing the project of my first chapter - the reconstruction of the broken schemata of volupte.


I’ve been working up to translating Theophile’s visit to the possessed woman of Agen. And, as you will remember from my previous posts, I have tried to do an ungodly quick triangulation between Robert Boyle, writing almost half a century after Theophile, and Quevedo, writing at the same time, in order to bring out the complexities in ‘erudite’ culture concerning nature and spirits. To add to that catalogue, I went to Johann Baptist Ullersperger’s Geschichte der Psychologie und Psychiatrie in Spanien and found an impressive roll call of 17th century Spanish doctors and their concerns. This isn’t quite the list of animals from the Chinese encyclopedia of Borges, but it is illuminating. Psychology of course didn’t exist in the seventeenth century – and, frankly, it might not exist in the 21st, as neurology and superstitions about genes take over a discipline that has never been able to stabilize itself – but in the 17th century, doctors wrote about a range of subjects that could be considered mental. And what amazing stuff...

There’s Alonso de Freilas, doctor the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, whose work on the plague ends with a discourse on melancholics. “The result of his discourse leads him back to the doubt, “whether melancholics with the natural power of their genius, in displays of a deep and very stressful power of the imagination, or retreating into dark, lonely places, may free themselves from distraction by external actions, or sink into natural sleep, or quietly watch with their imaginations what it is hard for the soul to understand, or know the future? In order to cast light on this doubt, he divides divination into a false, vain and diabolical, and divine or natural.”

There’s Pedro Garcia Carrero, the probable author of Los hijos ilustros of Madrid, who is the son of Luis Garcia, King Philip’s doctor, wrote one of the textbooks of Galenic medicine of the time, in which some chapters handle melancholy, other incubuses or nightmares, others vertigo.

Juan Gutierrez de Godoy’s book on useful physic devotes two books to memory in which he reveals the point in the brain where memory is contained, explains why it is better in childhood, how it is better on an empty than a full stomach, how it gets disorganized, why happy memories rarely go with great talents, and the means to preserve the power of memory.

Don Francisco Leiva y Aguilar, who writes around 1634, gave a description of the melancholic that “deserves to be preserved”. “A melancholic, even when he is not fully characterized by this disease, how unsocial is his behavior? How unfriendly is he against everybody? when you look at him, he shrinks back, when you speak to him, he gives no answer – seek him, he hides, call him, he denies that it is himself, invite him in, he holds back, satisfaction makes him sad, he finds nourishment in care, loneliness supports him – society horrifies him, he begins to speak, then says nothing, if he was silent, then he would begin to speak – if he wants to go, he stays, if he goes on to stand still, he will go further, he has intercourse with shadows – in company he remains dumb, he loves darkness, flies the light, if you give him the means, he never takes it, his health is failing and he doesn’t seek it, he puts doubt into certainty, has fear before what is certain, the easiest appears to him the hardest, will divide what can’t be divided, will undertake the impossible, doesn’t eat, when he is hungry, doesn’t mark, when he eats, - he is thirsty and doesn’t drink, he counts the stars and weighs the sand along the seaside, he observes the atoms, he has pre-feelings about future events, brings the past into order, spends his cares on nothings, forgets his own, doesn’t remain with the ones about whom one speaks, isn’t bothered by what one is saying, he has and doesn’t enjoy, what he has, is lacking to him, life repulses him, he wishes for death, he knows no more constant friend of evil as not to die. So the melancholic behaves at the outset, our author writes, until he latter perhaps hangs himself from a rail, or throws himself in a well. “

Gaspar Bravo de Sobemonte Ramirez, 1610 to 1683, wrote a treatise in which he described Queen Isabella’s pregnancy and her epilepsy. In the first part of his Resolutiones medicae he described lycanthropia and its causes.

Thomas Murillo Velarde, first a ship doctor and then a doctor to King Philip IV, wrote a treatise in which the first chapter is dedicated to the question of whether a peasant who is seized with frenzy or melancholy can speak latin, understand philosophy, or make verses without having learned it previously. He also mentions that he once saw a Negro in Seville who had a demon who could speak out of the left side of his heart.

And, to add one more story from a different place – France – to complete the mosaic I’m creating, here.

In Maurice Souriau’s monograph on Pascal, he includes the following story, related by the daughter of one of the Pascal family’s intimate friends, his niece, Marguerite Perier:

Blaise was only a year old when he began to languish, to grow more and more enfeebled, a victim, or so claimed the neighbors, of a woman who was given alms by his mother, and who had cast a spell on him. The father had the suspected person brought before him, and by threats, he drew out an avowal of her crime. in order to revenge herself on Etienne Pascal [the father], who had refused to defend her in a trial, the witch had throw a mortal curse on the baby: it was thus necessary, to save him, to transfer the curse to a living being. M. Pascal offered a horse: the witch was contented with a cat. Then, with nine herbs collected before dawn by a seven year old child, she made a magical plaster: they put it on little Blaise’s stomach, who will be cured at midnight. The child seemed dead, everyone cried, astonished at the credulity of the grave magistrate who, confiding in the incantations of the witch, watches over his son, who he alone believes is sleeping. A little after midnight, life seems to reappear, then Blaise awakens. All the signs of his illness gradually disappear. Later the father repents of having dabbled in all this diablerie, a new proof that he still believed in it.” [17]

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