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Going cataleptic: ecstatic extremes and 'deep' thinking in and around Diderot.

After six days wasted in frivolous discussion with indifferent people, we have today spent a morning in the English manner, gathered in silence, enjoying at once the pleasure of being together and the bliss of contemplation. How few people know the delights of that state! [... ] Two hours thus went by between us in this ecstatic immobility, a thousand times sweeter than the cold repose of Epicurus's Gods.

--Jean-Jacques Rousseau, La Nouvelle Heloise (1)

The abbe, standing next to me, gushed in admiration [s'extasiait] as usual over the charms of nature.

--Denis Diderot, Salon de 1767 (2)

From the two hours of silent bliss shared by Saint-Preux and the Wolmars in La Nouvelle Heloise, to the moments of aesthetic enchantment that punctuate Diderots Salons, eighteenth-century French writers delighted in staging ecstasy. When portrayed in sentimentalist works, ecstasy typically meant an exalted state of emotional pleasure which deep-feeling souls achieved, wondrously and wordlessly, through a shared communion. (3) Ecstasy was equally popular in other realms of this period's culture, including pictorial representations of divinely inspired women like Teresa of Avila, and libertine novels that boldly blurred the lines between higher (religious) and lower (sexual) modes of rapturous experience. (4) There was, however, an alternative discourse produced during the eighteenth century, one that challenged both the communal qualities and the erotic undertones that some authors and artists gave to this affective state. In that line of thinking, ecstasy was a step on the way toward catalepsy, a condition in which being wholly absorbed by feeling held very different implications.

One finds a striking example of such thinking in the chapter "Raison" of the Elements de physiologie, where Diderot remarked: "There are no deep thinkers, no ardent imaginations that are not subject to momentary catalepsies. A singular idea comes to mind, a strange connection distracts us, and our heads are lost. We come back from that state as from a dream, asking those around us, 'where was I? What was I saying?'" (5) Associating knowledge-seeking with catalepsy may seem odd for an author of eighteenth-century France, given that the era's best-known intellectual persona, the philosophe, was fashioned as a sociable type who championed reason, truth-telling, and social-political engagement. However, Diderots remark is consonant with a perspective on intellectual pursuit that was equally important at the time: the notion that intense thinking involved pleasures whose nature and mechanisms were mysterious. His odd intermingling of charmingly dreamlike qualities with more baffling traits to describe "deep thinkers" was not, moreover, unique: it belonged to a broader tradition that simultaneously aestheticized knowledge-seekers and imbued them with a radical alterity.

Perhaps no other period in French culture celebrated thinkers so exuberantly as the eighteenth century: illustrious minds were venerated, and those who belonged to the Republic of Letters enjoyed greater social prominence than they had in previous centuries. (6) However, despite widespread efforts to bring the life of learning into closer alignment with the practices and values of polite society, an aura of difference--strangeness, even--surrounded the knowledge-seeker as a type. This was not simply because some intellectuals kept a distance from le beau monde, as Jean d'Alembert urged them to do in his Essai sur la societe des gens de lettres et des grands (1753). It was also due to a pervasive belief that great thinkers were constituted differently from the nonintellectual cultural elite (as well as from the common herd). According to this view, those who devoted themselves fully and intently to learned and creative endeavor had unique ways of feeling and sensing--including, in Diderot's estimation, a tendency to slip in and out of "catalepsies" when they were gripped by an idea.

Catalepsy is not a term often used in historical narratives of the French Enlightenment. It is more typically associated with nineteenth-century phenomena: for example, the fascination of literary writers for magnetic somnambulism, the transport of the senses, and other extraordinary states of the psyche; or the famous demonstrations carried out in the 1870s-80s by the clinician and neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot to recreate, under hypnosis, the various states of hysterical patients. (7) Yet in fact, the cultural history of this condition began much earlier: catalepsy became a focal point of French-language medical discourse starting in the 1730s, a development connected both to growing interest in nervous maladies and to cultural episodes like Jansenist convulsionism. It was, moreover, during the eighteenth century that catalepsy infiltrated the vocabulary of French literature, aesthetics, and moral philosophy, a trend tied to the period's emerging preoccupation with genius as well as its concern over the effects of intense passions on mind and body alike.

Rather like hysteria (which was sometimes evoked as its underlying cause) catalepsy was a protean condition whose forms hovered uncertainly around the border separating the knowable from the unknowable. (8) Although eighteenth-century clinicians attributed a specific set of symptoms to cataleptics--sudden loss of consciousness, a wax-statue quality, and a peculiar combination of sensory dysfunction and enhancement--their causal explanations varied greatly, and many doctors refrained from drawing firm etiological conclusions from the cases they recounted. Catalepsy was also semantically protean, crossing back and forth between medicine, philosophy, and literature to crystallize around certain figures: that of the "deep" thinker, and that of the individual deemed vulnerable (for one reason or another) to debilitating nervous excitation.

This essay is designed to sketch those developments while also examining selected stagings of absorption by Diderot, from La Religieuse and Cinqmars et Derville (both drafted in the early 1760s) to the Refutation suivie de l'ouvrage d'Helvetius intitule de l'Homme (1775). I will consider two sorts of deep absorption, both of which were sometimes given cataleptic shadings: the oblivion ascribed to thinkers lost in thought, and the stupor attributed to less productive passions like deep chagrin. My survey will move over a span that starts in the early eighteenth century, when absorptive mental states emerged as a topic of discussion in both philosophical and medical discourse, and ends in the 1830s, when Honore de Balzac created a particularly intriguing cataleptic persona, the mysterious genius protagonist of Louis Lambert (1832).


Eighteenth-century interest in the pleasures involved in intellectual absorption was, in part, an extension of earlier debates. Philosophers like Rene Descartes and Nicolas Malebranche spoke with disapproval of some of the passions they associated with knowledge-seeking: Descartes remarked that "the desire to know, which is common to all men, is an incurable sickness"; and Malebranche ridiculed "those so called studious persons" who, although lacking the capacity to meditate, were moved to read ambitiously either by excessive esteem for some author or by "the stupid vanity that makes us hope to be esteemed as scholars." (9) However, the seventeenth century also saw the rise of a more positive view: an "internally complex conception of knowledge [...] closely linked to emotion," which emphasized the joy that is achieved when the mind "rejoices in the operations of its own understanding." (10) The improved status of the emotions involved in intellectual endeavor was part of a larger reconfiguration of philosophy that rejected the simple Stoical antithesis between reason and affect, took a serious interest in the psychological and physical underpinnings of the emotions, and tended to see the passions not as vices or obstacles to reason, but, rather, as forces instrumental to maintaining human life, bringing happiness, and pushing people to improve their condition. (11)

Some of those ideas were reflected in Luc de Clapier Vauvenargues's Introduction a la connaissance de l'esprit humain (1747), a text excerpted in the Encyclopedie article "Amour des Sciences et des Lettres," whose second paragraph declared: "One cannot have a great soul or a somewhat penetrating mind without some passion for Letters. Most men honor Letters as they do religion or virtue: that is, as something that they can neither know, nor practice, nor love." (12) Those lines sum up the Enlightenment eras double-edged attitude about scholarly pursuit: a passion for learning was essential to greatness of soul and intellect, but only the fit and few could truly feel or understand it. This text also echoed broader thinking by underscoring that people gripped with this passion were inclined to misdirect it or carry it to excess.

For many philosophers of mind, the latter sort of risk was personified by Archimedes, the ancient mathematician who was too lost in thought during the Roman siege of Syracuse in 212 BC to notice that his life was in danger. Plutarch's Lives (widely admired by eighteenth-century readers, as Rousseau's autobiographical works attest) included two stories about Archimedes in contemplative oblivion, both of which appeared in the life of Marcellus. The first was the tale that "the charm of his familiar and domestic Siren made him forget his food and neglect his person [...] being in a state of entire preoccupation, and, in the truest sense, divine possession with his love and delight in science." The second was the story of Archimedes's demise, when he was so "intent upon working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed his mind alike and his eyes upon the subject of his speculation" that he either failed to notice or ignored the Roman soldier who had been sent to take him to appear before General Marcellus--so enraging the soldier that he killed Archimedes instantly. (13)

These anecdotes inspired diverse applications. Montesquieu mentioned the first story while commenting that pleasure and chance sometimes played a greater part in the discovery of truth than deliberate, laborious mental effort: "Archimedes found, in the delights of a bath, the famous problem that his long meditations has missed a thousand times." (14) Condillac used the same anecdote to support his thesis that deep thinkers were the group most liable to lose touch with the real world under the sway of the imagination, "whose characteristic is to arrest the impressions of the senses in order to substitute for them a feeling independent of the action of external objects." (15) Julien Offray de La Mettrie used the second story in his dedication to L'Homme Machine (1747) to paint an erotically tinged picture of the cataleptic-like "ecstasies" of knowledge-seeking. (16) It got a more sanitized spin in the Encyclopedie article "Attention," where the Abbe Claude Yvon praised Archimedes's extraordinary powers of intellectual attention, so great that he ignored the fact that the world around him was being sacked (ATTENTION, i:842-43). By contrast, the medical Encyclopedist Henri Fouquet cited Archimedes (along with the mathematician Francois Viete) to point out that the sensory oblivion observed in some deep thinkers had pathological repercussions akin to those seen in melancholics and maniacs: "a man absorbed in a deep meditation lives only in the head, so to speak" (SENSIBILITE, SENTIMENT, [Medecine], xv: 15:46).

Clearly, these authors held different theories on what was happening to the thinker in such moments. For some, Archimedian attention exemplified optimal mental concentration, the state achieved by those rare souls capable of enjoying the sublime bliss of a meditative trance. For others, full intellectual absorption created a perplexing split between consciousness and other operations, which seemed to carry on in the absence of regulation and direction by the will.

Similar worries were voiced by physicians who wrote on the disease syndrome known as "maladies des gens de lettres"--like the Lausanne physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot, author of the medical best seller De la sante des gens de lettres, first published in French in 1768. This work's general thesis was that those who engaged too zealously in intellectual work were bound to fall ill to some bodily or mental disorder, with the list of possible ills ranging from common ailments like poor digestion to more dire conditions like total sensory loss. Tissot attributed study-induced sensory dysfunction to a mixture of affective overload and brain exhaustion. This, he maintained, was what happened to the renowned Greek scholar Madame Dacier, who, while reciting Hector's farewell to Andromache, was so deeply moved that she lost the use of her senses. (17) He took an even more dramatic example from his friend Dr. Johann-Georg Zimmermann: the case of a young Swiss gentleman who wore his brain out by studying metaphysics. Although increasingly weak, the young man intensified his intellectual efforts; and after six months, his ailment became so severe that "his mind and senses gradually fell into a state of utter stupor" (SGL, 22). His doctors struggled for a year to pull him out of his oblivion, but nothing worked until someone stood very close to the patient and read a letter in a thundering voice, which woke him up painfully, thereby unblocking his ears. That therapy was continued over the course of another year until all of the young man's senses were restored: "he recovered completely, and is today one of our best philosophers" (24).

The etiology on which Tissot relied to explain why gens de lettres were such a sickly, stupor-prone patient group was rooted in a passion quite distinct from erotically driven carnal desire: the term he used was "literary intemperance" (28). In one particularly colorful passage, he compared overzealous scholars to "lovers who fly off the handle when one dares to say that the object of their passion has defects; moreover, they almost all have the sort of fixity in their ideas that is created by study" (132). Fixity of ideas was also a defining characteristic of cataleptics, a patient group that Tissot examined in his Traite de la catalepsie, de l'extase, de la migraine, et des maladies du cerveau (1780), part of his multivolume Traite des nerfs.


Cataleptics played a curious role in eighteenth-century French culture: although they were associated with polemical phenomena like the Jansenist convulsionaries--a subject of theological, moralist, and political debate from the beginning of the century to the 1760s--they were also singled out as a distinct and authentic patient group by physicians. This period's clinicians considered the disorder known as catalepsy to be extremely rare, yet they were greatly intrigued by the persona of the cataleptic. Defining catalepsy in very basic terms as the sudden loss of both sensory receptiveness and voluntary mobility, they regarded it as a true illness and classified it among the diseases of the nerves, widely held to be a new epidemic afflicting contemporary Europe.

The upsurge in French-vernacular works containing case histories of cataleptic patients began around 1709, when the Paris surgeon Pierre Dionis published a dissertation that included the case of Elisabeth Devigne, whose cataleptic fits had all of Paris buzzing with rumors that she was either possessed, overcome with religious enthusiasm, or faking it. Dionis dismissed the idea that Devigne was in a state of ecstasy: ecstasy, he insisted, entailed the "transport of the mind [esprit] out of itself," whereas her condition was truly physical--and thus cataleptic. (18) In 1737, La Mettrie appended to his Traite du vertige the case histories of the cataleptic seventeen-year-old Helene Renault of Saint Malo and her older sister Olive, whose symptoms--vertigo, followed by violent convulsions, followed by delirium and wax-statuesque immobility--were accompanied by uterine suffocation and a pathologically heightened sense of smell. And in 1742, Francois Boissier de Sauvages sent the Royal Academy of Sciences an observation in which he described the case of Magdeleine Valette, a twenty-year-old domestic in Montpellier who was hospitalized for several months for delirious catalepy that also involved sleepwalking. (19)

Ecstasy was no less subject to medicalization than catalepsy in such discussions. However, medical and nonmedical commentators alike went to some pains to cordon off the authentic experience of ecstasy and preserve it from intimations of pathology. This approach is typified by Philippe Hecquet, a physician and conservative Jansenist who repeatedly took up the pen on this subject in works like Le Naturalisme des convulsions (1733) and Lettre sur la convulsionnaire en extase, ou La vaporeuse en reve (1736)--the latter a short, sarcastic response to the Requete de Charlotte de la Porte au parlement (1735), written by a woman who claimed to have performed miracle cures while convulsing on the tomb of Francois de Paris (the ascetic monk revered as a saint by some in the Jansenist movement) and who had been both imprisoned and libelled for her claims. (20) Hecquet's intent was to "naturalize" the contagious, sometimes cataleptic convulsions which people like Charlotte de la Porte attributed to divine inspiration. Echoing Dionis's approach, Hecquet attributed Charlotte's symptoms to natural causes: their spasms and contorsions were triggered by "explosions" of the animal spirits in the muscles (Lettre, 21-22). In Le Naturalisme des convulsions, Hecquet declared that the mental faculty driving those explosions was the imagination, which he accused certain churchmen of stirring up in young female convulsionarles for licentious purposes. (21) He likewise accused the fifty-something Charlotte of convulsing out of lacivious desire for the young men in the crowd--and not, as she asserted, because she was undergoing something akin to the divinely-inspired "ravissement" of Saint Paul or Adam (Lettre, 6-7, 15-17). Nor, Hecquet insisted, was Charlotte's experience comparable to the voluntary, natural ecstasy observed in "Gens de lettres, Philosophers, Geometers, Mathematicians, etc., which is produced by the rapt or surge that they produce in their animal spirits, which they sublimate in the seat of the soul" (Lettre, 20).

The same mixture of respect and caution regarding ecstasy is apparent in the Encyclopedie, which in 1756 featured two entries entitled "Extase." In the theological article, Edme-Francois Mallet emphasized that "ecclesiastic history confirms that several saints fell into an ecstatic trance that lasted several days"; yet he added: "it is useful to observe that false mystics, enthusiasts, and fanatics have feigned ecstasies to try to lend authority to their reveries or their impieties" (EXTASE [Theolog.], vi: 324). To illustrate that point, he cited the "false prophet Mohammed," whom he accused of fooling ignorant Muslims by passing off his epileptic fits as ecstactic trances in which he received divine revelations. In the medical article on the same topic, Dr. Arnulphe dAumont described ecstatics as patients suffering from a "soporific," melancholic disease that differed from catalepsy only in degree: ecstatics became physically immobilized, but lacked the extraordinary flexibility seen in cataleptics; and they displayed the ability (absent in cataleptics) to recall, after their disease attack, the idea on which their minds had been fixed prior to the attack. D'Aumont's list of reported cases of medical ecstatics included young people of both sexes who were unhappy in love, and religious devots (EXTASE [Medecine], vi: 324).

Gender was unquestionably a factor in the reports on medical cataleptics and ecstatics which were published in the vernacular (and thus directed at the general public as well as specialists). Like convulsions and fainting, soporific states were part of the "range of possible pathologies" tied to hysterical affections, a disease which eighteenth-century physicians attributed not only to nervous sensitivity but also to the feminization of mores among aristocrats. (22) However, the patients these authors described came in many shapes and sizes: male as well as female, working class and upper class, secular and religious. Moreover, cataleptics and ecstatics also appeared in other, nonmedical contexts: for example, commentaries on contemporary trends in aesthetic experience--like the growing taste for the sublime and other "enthusiastic" modes of audience reception. (23)

Interestingly, Tissot opened his 1780 treatise on catalepsy, ecstasy, and related brain/nerve diseases by noting their connections to learned and creative pursuit. Various causes, he maintained, could provoke ecstasy, including violent chagrin, excessive religious devotion, and the very strong impressions associated with the fine arts. (24) True ecstasy, in his view, was quite rare: very few objects could "ravish" to the point of ecstasy, and very few people could be ravished, "although many claim to be so, to give themselves an air of sensibility or a connoisseurs tone." To underscore those points, Tissot cited the cutting remark uttered by a great painter to a princess who claimed to be swooning in ecstasy in front of his art work: "madame se trompe" (TC, 7).

Notwithstanding his concern that, like ecstasy, catalepsy could be feigned--and the fact that hed never observed a full-blown case of the disease himself--Tissot believed in catalepsy's existence and was intent on dispelling what he perceived as misconceptions about its nature, causes, and treatment (including the claim that it only affected women [TC, 62]). This was the guiding spirit of his treatise, in which Tissot carefully compiled observations gleaned from other sources and added occasional editorial commentary. Tissot proposed the following list of possible causes for catalepsy: a long intermittent fever; a melancholic disposition; arrested menses or hemorroids; a violent fright; a violent fever in a hot-blooded man; and deep, sustained meditation on a single object (TC, 61-62). He did not prescribe any systematic therapeutic program for treating the disease, but he did express reservations about the harsh "cures" which some doctors administered to cataleptics, like emetics, purgatives, bleedings, cauterization, the application of ammonia salts to the eyes, needle pricks, electrical jolts, and so on. It was better, in his view, to use calming methods, like placing the patient in a quiet area, administering gentle frictions and a few cups of a light lemon balm infusion, or moral remedies (TC, 81).

That emphasis on moderation is also evident in the remarks Tissot made about the observation related in 1737 by Dr. Attalin, a medical professor in Besancon, about a cataleptic lady from Vesoul whose attacks were triggered by a lawsuit of great personal consequence (TC, 11-17). The day before her suit was to be heard before a judge, she learned that it was not going well and fell suddenly into a stupor. When Dr. Attalin and a surgeon arrived at the scene, they found the lady sitting immobile in an armchair, her eyes wide open and fixed in a stare, her arms raised and her hands clasped, "as if she had been in ecstasy"; her respiration was easy and regular, and her pulse slow, like that of people sleeping peacefully; and her arms and legs were strangely malleable. Attalin and the surgeon did some experiments, like raising the lady's chin up and down, placing her on her feet, and arranging her arms and legs in awkward positions (TC, 13). Those details triggered this comment by Tissot: "it is easy to surmise that not only the desire to understand the disease, but also a certain curiosity for such a spectacle, prompted the observers to imagine all sorts of strange things; the patient remained like soft wax." Still, Tissot considered this case to be exemplary: the lady "seemed insensible; they shook her, pinched her, tormented her, they put a hot iron under her feet, they even shouted in her ears that she was going to win her case; no sign of life. It was a perfect catalepsy" (TC, 14).

Tissot did not venture a causal explanation for the ailment suffered by the lady of Vesoul, beyond attributing it to "chagrin" over her impending lawsuit (TC, 15). The lady's transports did not entail a detachment of the soul from the body (as Tissot suggested was the case in true ecstasy, which he did not consider a disease [TC, 4]). Rather, what made her catalepsy so exemplary was, precisely, its bodily roots: catalepsy entailed "a deep focusing of the senses, which makes one oblivious [insensible] to everything, with a stable flexibility in the members and no lesion in the vital functions" (TC, 17).

The Vesoul story captures several key aspects of the symptoms that were commonly attributed to cataleptics in eighteenth-century accounts. It also illustrates three other typical features: the role attributed to violent fright or deep and sustained meditation on a single object as a trigger for catalepsy; the theatrical cast which medical observers gave to the cases they related-cases in which they sometimes took on the role of tormenting puppeteers; and the harshness of the standardly applied medical treatments, especially bleeding, a treatment for which Tissot took Boissier de Sauvages to task, in a note on the Magdeleine Valette case history. (25) Finally, the case of the lady of Vesoul contains some of the baffling qualities that marked some contemporary medical observations on hysteria and related "vaporous" ailments, but without the sexual etiology that often underpinned diagnoses of those particular conditions. (26)

The absence of any sexual etiology is also apparent in the accounts of "studious" catalepsy which Tissot included in the Traite de la catalepsie: the cases related by Fernel of two men who were overtaken by the disease while reading and writing, and just froze in place (TC, 18).


Diderot clearly shared his era's fascination with the strange state of unconsciousness that could occur when a person focused entirely on a particular idea, pleasure, or fear. He found it aesthetically appealing: oblivion was, as Michael Fried puts it, an "extreme instance or limiting case" of the interest in absorptive activities evident in the art criticism produced by Diderot and other midcentury art theorists. (27) The same interest is apparent in his literary practice, which invested depictions of characters engrossed in reverie--pleasurable or not--with a special power to interest and touch their readers. Extreme absorption also intrigued him because of the peculiar psychophysiological mechanisms by which it seemed to operate.

Diderot made a series of comments on those mechanisms in his Elements de physiologie. Most were tied to reflections on the vagaries of reason and consciousness: these included his observation (cited earlier) on the fleeting quality of conscious reason in "deep thinkers" (EP 328-29); an allusion to the fabled fifty-year sleep of Epimenides, which he evoked while raising the question "In the cataleptic in which the animal [body] is reduced to the purely sensitive state, what happens to the so-called commerce between body and soul?" (EP, 333); and the story of a woman who, after suffering a cataleptic fit, resumed the speech she'd been making beforehand (EP, 465-6O). (28) One remark, however, belonged to a different thread of thinking: the sharp critique of quietists which Diderot makes in a fragment (not included in the Vandeul manuscript). Quietists, he contended, "give lessons in catalepsy to their devotes to enjoy their bodies without them knowing it. These lessons proceed by degrees: from kissing to touching the breasts, from touching the breasts to touching the private parts, from the private parts to full jouissance, the extreme of perfection. It is when the directeur is entirely in her that the devote is entirely in God. It's an art" (EP, 541).

This critique brings to mind various aspects of Diderot's novel La Religieuse, starting with the erotic scenes in which the heroine, Suzanne Simonin, is kissed, ritualistically and with increasing intimacy, by the lesbian Mother Superior of Saint-Eutrope as Suzanne relates the punishments she endured in her previous convent. (29) His emphasis on the perversely "artful" quality of quietist lessons in catalepsy can also be connected to the episode of the seductive "lesson by Marcel [a famous dancing master of the period] on monastic elegance," which the Novice Mistress gives Suzanne in her first convent. (30) Interestingly, that lesson is administered immediately after Suzanne is forced against her will to surrender to her novitiate, a situation that triggers her first bout of immobilized oblivion: "Though the nuns pressed round me to support me, I felt my knees giving way a score of times, and I all but fell on the steps of the altar. I saw and heard nothing and was quite brutish [stupide]. They led me and I went. They questioned me and answered in my place" (Memoirs of a Nun, 15-16; La Religieuse, 89). Suzanne's cataleptic quality become even more pronounced as her profession approaches and she sinks deeper into dejection and dread for the existence that awaits her. While other nuns dress her for the ceremony, "I heard nothing of what was being said around me. I had become practically an automaton. I was aware of nothing, save that from time to time I had a kind of small convulsive fit" (.Memoirs of a Nun, 44; La Religieuse, 123). (31) Suzanne's stuporous reaction to her forced vocation includes a state of "alienation" and memory loss that lasts for several months. Both can be tied not simply to contemporary medical discourse, but also to the philosophical stance of resistance she takes to her forced vocation. (32)

Diderot obviously designed these episodes to elicit horror and pity from the Marquis de Croismare, the inscribed reader of La Religieuse. Judging from the texts in the Fonds Vandeul that date from 1760 (the year when he first drafted this novel), horror and pity were also the emotions he himself felt upon reading contemporary eyewitness accounts of the spectacles being staged in Paris, where priests and nuns inflicted various sorts of "secours meurtriers" on the bodies of younger nuns. (33) Diderot maintained a "Dossier des convulsionnaires" which he took care to publish, with Grimms assistance, in the Correspondance litteraire in 1760 and 1761. His dialogue Cinqmars and Derville, written around the same time, makes it clear that he was revulsed by two aspects of these spectacles: the grotesque, dehumanizing tortures they involved; and the fact that some Parisians found them entertaining. That sort of spectator is embodied by the fictional chevalier whose experience is related by Derville to Cinqmars:

So, the chevalier was curious to attend an assembly of convulsionaries. He saw one woman on whom they'd placed a burlet, who was acting like a child and walking on her knees, and who they then placed on a cross; in fact, they crucified her, they drove nails through her feet and hands. A cold sweat covered her face and she fell into convulsions. In the midst of her torments, she ask for candy, to go beddy-bye, and a thousand other extravagances I can't remember. When she was detached from the cross, she stroked the face and arms of the spectators with her hands, which were still bleeding. (34)

Cinqmars is horrified both by the homicidal fanaticism of the convulsionary sect, and by the joking, "indecent pantomime" the chevalier performs at a dinner party after witnessing the assembly, just to get a laugh out of his friends. (35)

The chronological proximity of these texts suggests that Diderots representation of Suzannes involuntary alienation may have been rooted in an anguished reaction to the convulsionaries and the horrible theatricality that surrounded them. That reaction--and the desire to rescue authentic ecstasy from the feigned forms scripted by some religious extremists--may also explain the positive, edifying value he ascribed to Mme de Monis divinely inspired trances in La Religieuse:

Her thoughts, expressions, and images penetrated the very depths of the heart. At first we [Suzanne and the other nuns at Longchamps] listened, gradually we were swept along and united with her. Our souls trembled, and we shared her transports. She certainly intended no seduction, but that was certainly what she did: we left her with an ardent heart and with joy and ecstasy painted on our faces. How sweet were the tears we shed!

(Memoirs of a Nun, 40; La Religieuse, 118-19)

Suzanne does not, of course, become a religious ecstatic on the model of Mme de Moni: to the contrary, her deep melancholy as her forced profession approaches so distresses Mme de Moni that the good superior loses her talent for entering into direct communication with God. The episodes of Mme de Monis ecstasy and Suzanne's alienated oblivion are recounted in almost direct succession within the novel, suggesting that they represent the two faces of Diderots Janus-like perspective on the affective states he associated with religion.

In fact, even when Diderot explored mental absorption in the less ambivalent register of intellectual and creative production, his position was complex. He gave a disconcerting, robot-like quality to the cerebralists whom he depicted as totally lost in thought--like the dazed geometer featured in both the Reve de d'Alembert and the Elements de physiologie, (36) Just as ambiguously, the Reves fictional Dr. Bordeu compares the shutting out of sensations that occurred in a "deeply meditating" man to what happens in delirious fanatics, savages who sing while engulfed in flames, ecstatics, and madmen. (37) However, Diderot often described mental absorption and mind-wandering as productive states. Distraction, as he put it in the Encyclopedie, was rooted in "an excellent quality of the understanding" that facilitated the flow of ideas. (38) Moreover, he maintained that flights of genius involve a felicitous alienation, a separation of the conscious mind from its bodily trappings. When speaking in terms of artistic or intellectual production, he took a benign view of this sort of alienation: his genius characters like Dorval of the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel (and perhaps the Nephew of Le Neveu de Rameau) do lapse into trances in which they are "sous le charme," oblivious to their surroundings while they ponder the deep verities of nature; however, the condition is temporary and promptly followed by an outpouring of new, inspiring ideas. (39)

It is worth noting that although he shared some of his century's general concern over the health and well-being of great minds, Diderot rejected the common notion that the scholarly temperament was innately sickly and melancholic. (40) Nor did he fret over the occasional solipsistic behavior that he, like many contemporaries, attributed to true intellectuals and artists: he saw them as "poetic beings" living under the spell of a particular idee fixe, blissfully unaware of the everyday concerns that agitated lesser minds. (41) Given that perspective, it is not surprising that Diderot himself may have been absentminded to the point of somnambulism--or, at least, so claimed the Montpellier physician Joseph Grasset in his 1907 study Demifous et demiresponsables. (42) Although that claim was probably rooted less in fact than in legend, Diderot's correspondence suggests that, for all of his gregariousness, he was deeply drawn toward studious retreat and the productive oblivion it fostered. (43)

Productive oblivion was also the theme of the cameo appearance which a fictionalized Leibniz made in the Refutation suivie de l'ouvrage d'Helvetius intitule de l'Homme (1775), where Diderot undertook to refute Helvetius's simplistic argument that physical sensibility was the universal impetus for all human actions. Bodily pleasure and pain may, Diderot argued, be fundamental motives for "voluptuous" sorts like Helvetius, but they simply didn't fit great minds like Leibniz: "You're obsessed with Mile Gaussin [the famous actress], but he's preoccupied with Newton." (44) Elaborating on that idea, he sketched a poetic vignette of the famous philosopher/mathematician as having spent thirty years in a meditative trance:

When Leibniz holed himself up, at the age of twenty, and spent thirty years in his dressing gown, plunged in the depths of geometry or lost in the shadows of metaphysics, he gave no more thought to obtaining a position, sleeping with a woman, or filling an old chest with gold, than if hed been at death's door. He was a reflecting machine, like a loom or a stocking-weaving machine; he was a being who took pleasure in meditating; he was a sage or a madman, whichever you like, who placed infinite importance on the approval of his peers, who loved the sound of compliments like a miser loves the sound of a coin, who had his touchstone and his balance for measuring praise, like the miser has his for gold, and who attempted a grand discovery to make himself a name and eclipse through his brilliance that of his rivals, which was the unique and final point of his desire. (45)

Diderot's attitude here oscillates between half-serious alarm over the odd, mechanical quality of the absorbed thinker and admiration for the pleasure which someone like Leibniz could take in attempting a grand discovery. So absolute was that pleasure, Diderot imagines, that if someone had broken down Leibniz's door and entered his study "with pistol in hand" saying "your money, or your discovery of the calculus," he would have handed over the key to his safe with a smile.

Along with humor, Diderot infused this portrait with a sense of curiosity that verges on wonder, a sentiment conveyed through the very particular machine analogy used to describe Leibniz plunged in meditation: the stocking-weaving loom--which, as Daniel Brewer emphasizes in his reading of Diderot's article BAS, was "the most complicated machine of the time." (46) Although the characterization of Leibniz as a "reflecting machine" comparable to a stocking loom might sound reductive, it is in fact quite the opposite: the analogy elevates the venerable mathematician/philosopher into a very special category of machine, one driven by a rare intelligence.

In short, Diderot's accounts of deeply absorbed thinkers are generally free of the pathological cast which Balzac would later give to the condition in Louis Lambert. The mysterious protagonist of that tale goes cataleptic toward the end of the story, perhaps to illustrate the idea that "a deep meditation, a beautiful ecstasy may be [...] catalepsies in the making." (47) Louis's hypertrophied brillance shines brightly in his adolescence, when he and the novel's narrator become so "impassioned" for catalepsy that they try to "withstand pain by thinking about other things" and carry out experiments "analogous to those of the convulsionarles of the previous century" (Lambert, 768; Balzac's emphasis). However, the intensity of Louis's genius ultimately leaves him in a near-fetal state, dwelling with his devoted fiancee in an "intoxicating atmophere in which ecstasy was contagious" (LL, 691). (48) Diderot's genius personae never succumb to such a dire fate; but their ardent, absentminded tendencies do set the stage for Balzac's tendency to surround the figure of the creative genius with an aura of mystery and eccentricity.


Catalepsy followed various trajectories after the eighteenth century, paths that varied according to the figures held to embody the condition. The two major Enlightenment-era incarnations of the cataleptic, the thinker and the religious enthusiast, continued to be evoked in nineteenth-century accounts, but they were joined by other types: for example, literary characters hovering between life and death, like Emma Bovary in her deathbed scene; the sleepwalkers associated with the fads of mesmerism and animal magnetism; and hysterical women, who became a truly distinct patient group after the Revolution. (49) With the rise of hysteria understood as a specifically female malady (a conception rooted in the revival of the uterine theory of this disease), the brand of catalepsy that most preoccupied post-Revolutionary physicians was also gendered female. (50)

One factor in the linking of catalepsy with female hysteria was skepticism over the claims made by magnetizers like the Lyon doctor Henri-Desire Petetin, author of Memoire sur la decouverte des phenomenes que presentent la catalepsie et le somnabulisme (1787), which recounted cases of female cataleptics whose symptoms included heightened intelligence and the ability to see and even smell through their internal organs. Prominent critics of this "heightened intelligence" theory included Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis, author of the treatise Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme (1802). Cabanis's reaction was rooted not just in skepticism about magnetism, but also in the sexual dimorphism that had become ubiquitous in French medical thinking by that time. (51) Referring specifically to the "singular spasmodic illnessses observed principally in women," he declared that "catalepsies, ecstasies, and all states of exaltation that are characterized by ideas and an eloquence that rise above the education and habits of the individual, are usually due to spasms in the organs of generation." (52) There was clearly a double-standard determinism at work in Cabanis's theory on the relationship between "lower-organ" spasms and evidence of intelligence: elsewhere in the Rapports, he maintained that visceral weakness of the dyspeptic, melancholic variety was not just a consequence of overstudy but a prerequisite for intellectual talent in men. (53)

Another factor in this linking was the perceived theatricality of the cases of cataleptic "transport of the senses" which medical magnetizers claimed to have observed. Jan Goldstein notes that Petetin was criticized by a contemporary physician for having created a veritable "epidemic" of cataleptic women around himself. (54) Such critiques intensified as the nineteenth century progressed: several articles in the Dictionnaire des sciences medicales (1812-22) aimed not simply to debunk magnetizers' claims but also to unmask their cataleptic patients as fakers. As Bilon, author of the article "Sens" put it: "It has been amply demonstrated, and irrefutable testimony lends credence to it, that this disease has very often been staged; certain women, who take a singular pleasure in attracting and fixing public curiosity [...] pretend to experience extraordinary diseases [...] Catalepsy exists, without a doubt, but not with all of the wonders that some attribute to it." (55) Writing in 1841, Claude Etienne Bourdin went so far as to say that the legitimate-sounding term "catalepy" had provided magnetizers with a sort of semantic cover, allowing their dubious doctrine to "enter the domain of science and gain currency [droit de cite], with all of its mysteries and miracles." (56) The perceived theatricality of female cataleptics may also have been shaped by the aesthetic instrumentalization of the mesmerized female in works like Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann (1851). (57)

In short, nineteenth-century accounts of catalepsy involved two different ways of conceptualizing the altered sensory and intellectual states sometimes associated with nervous disorder. One, typically gendered male, was associated with "poetic" melancholy and creative oblivion; and the other, typically gendered female, was tied to the marionnette-like condition that enjoyed fame and fortune among magnetizers, hypnotists, and (later in the century) those of the Charcot/Freud circles. In other words, catalepsy had two destinies after the Enlightenment: an aesthetic destiny, fostered by its ties with the ecstasies cultivated by the poetic beings of the Romantic era; and a medical destiny that led catalepsy away from its loose association with nervous disorder (broadly defined), and toward a much more particular tie to hysteria, a condition that was "reserved" for women starting in the early nineteenth century. There remained, however, a connection between the poetic ecstatics and hysterical cataleptics of the post-Enlightenment: plunged in different ways in the "darkness of the self," both embodied for their spectators a disconcerting but highly compelling mixture of exaltation and alienation. (58)

University of Wisconsin--Madison


(1) Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie or the New Heloise, Letters of Two Lovers Who Live in a Small Town at the Foot of the Alps trans. and ann. Philip Stewart and Jean Vache (U. Press of New England [for] Dartmouth College, 1997), 456-57. ["Deux heures se sont ainsi ecoulees entre nous dans cette immobilite d'extase, plus douce mille fois que le froid repos des dieux d'Epicure"; La Nouvelle Heloise, in Rousseau, CEuvres completes (Paris, Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, 1959-), 2: 557-59.]

(2) "L'abbe, place a cote de moi, s'extasiait a son ordinaire sur les charmes de la nature"; Salon de 1767, in Diderot, CEuvres completes, ed. Herbert Dieckmann, Jacques Proust, Jean Varloot, et al. (Paris : Hermann, 1975-), XVI: 194. Ail translations from the French are mine, unless otherwise indicated. Abbreviation for further references to Hermann edition: DPV.

(3) Rowan Boyson underscores the communal nature of pleasure--including ecstatic--as conceptualized by authors such as Wordsworth, Kant, and Rousseau; see Wordsworth and the Enlightenment Idea of Pleasure (Cambridge U. Press, 2012). See also Thomas M. Kavanagh, Enlightened Pleasures: Eighteenth-Century France and the New Epicureanism (Yale U. Press, 2010). On the role of ecstasy in post-structuralist theorizations of community, see Maria Hynes, "Surpassing Ecstasy, Infinite Enthusiasm," Parallax, 17:2 (2011) 59-70.

(4) See Mary Sheriff, Moved By Love: Inspired Artists and Deviant Women in Eighteenth-Century France (U. of Chicago Press, 2004), especially 91-93; and Melissa Percival, "Ecstatic Virgins and Bearded Mystics: Some Examples of the Expressive Head in French Painting," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (2001): 12,429-44.

(5) "Point de penseurs profonds, point d'imaginations ardentes qui ne soient sujets a des catalepsies momentanees. Une idee singuliere se presente, un rapport bizarre distrait, et voila la tete perdue, on revient de la comme d'un reve. On demande a ses auditeurs, ou en etais-je? Que disais-je?"; Diderot, Elements de physiologie (DPV) 17: 328-29.

(6) See Jean-Claude Bonnet, Naissance du Pantheon: Essai sur le culte des grands hommes (Paris: Fayard, 1998), and David A. Bell, "National Memory and the Canon of Great Frenchmen," in The Cult of the Nation: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800 (Harvard U. Press, 2001), 107-39.

(7) J. M. Charcot, "Sur les divers etats nerveux determines par l'hypnotisation chez les hysteriques" Comptes rendus de TAcademie des Sciences 94(1882): 403-5.

(8) On the protean qualities of hysteria, see Sabine Arnaud, L'invention de l'hysterie au temps des Lumieres, 1670-1820 (Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes En Sciences Sociales, 2014).

(9) Rene Descartes, La Recherche de la verite par la lumiere naturelle (1641) in Oeuvres et lettres (Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleaide, 1953), 882; and Nicolas Malebranche, The Search After Truth: With Elucidations of The Search After Truth [1674-75] (Cambridge U. Press, 1997), trans. Thomas M. Lennon and Paul J. Olscamp, book 2, part 2, chap. 2: 138.

(10) Susan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 225. For a summary of seventeenth-century theories of the passions, see Stephen Gaugroker, ed., The Soft Underbelly of Reason: The Passions in the Seventeenth Century (London; New York: Routledge, 1998), 1-16.

(11) See Harold J. Cook, "Body and Passions: Materialism and the Early Modern State," Osiris 2nd ser., 17 (2002), 25-48.

(12) Abbe Claude Yvon, "Amour des sciences et des lettres," in Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert, eds., Encyclopedie, 1:368.

(13) Plutarch, "Marcellus," in Plutarch's Lives, trans. John Dryden, rev. Arthur Hugh Clough (New York, 1932), 378 and 380.

(14) Montesquieu, "Discours sur l'Usage des glandes renales" (1718), in CEuvres completes, ed. R. Caillois (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), 1:20.

(15) Etienne Bonnet de Condillac, Traite des sensations [1754] (Paris: Fayard, 1984), 30.

(16) Julien Offray de La Mettrie, L'Homme machine (Paris: Editions Brossard, 1921), 49.

(17) Samuel-Auguste Tissot, De la sante des gens de lettres, 3rd ed. (Lausanne: Grasset, 1775), 19 (abbreviation : SGL).

(18) Pierre Dionis, Dissertation sur la mort subite et sur la catalepsie, avec la relation de plusieurs personnes qui en ont ete attaquees, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1718), 176.

(19) Francois Boissier de Sauvages, "Observation sur une fille cataleptique et somnambule en meme temps," Memoires de l'Academie des sciences pour l'annee 1742, 409.

(20) On the theological and political controversies surrounding the convulsionnaires, see, among many studies, Catherine-Laurence Maire, Les convulsionnaires de Saint-Medard: Miracles, convulsions, et propheties a Paris au XVIIIe siecle (Paris, Gallimard, 1985), and De la Cause de Dieu a la cause de la nation: Le jansenisme au XVIIIe siecle (Paris: Gallimard, 1998). See also Charly Colemans recent discussion in The Virtues of Abandon: An Anti-Individualist History of the French Enlightenment (Stanford U. Press, 2014), 105-18.

(21) On the role Hecquet attributed to the imagination in the convulsionary "epidemic," see Jan Goldstein, "Enthusiasm or Imagination? Eighteenth-Century Smear Words in Comparative National Context," in Lawrence E. Klein and Anthony J. La Vopa, eds., Enthusiasm and Enlightenment in Europe, 1650-1850 (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1998), 29-49.

(22) Arnaud, L'invention de l'hysterie, 25-50.

(23) See Dominique Peyrache-Leborgne, La Poetique du sublime de la fin des Lumieres au Romantisme (Diderot, Schiller, Wordsworth, Shelley, Hugo, Michelet) (Paris: Editions Champion 1997).

(24) Traite de la catalepsie, de l'extase, de la migraine,et des maladies du cerveau, etc. (1780), in CEuvres de Monsieur Tissot (Lausanne: Grasset, 1790), 9:6-7 (abbreviation: TC).

(25) Tissot offered no comment on other methods Boissier de Sauvages used to elicit a sensory reaction from the cateleptic Magdeleine: slapping her, holding a lit candle very close to her eyes, putting eau-de-vie in her eyes and mouth, and applying the pointed end of a feather to her cornea (TC, 48-49).

(26) See Arnaud, L'Invention de l'hysterie, esp. 64-74.

(27) Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (U. of Chicago Press, 1980), 31.

(28) Phoebe von Held discusses some of these passages in her article '"Le grand oubli de Suzanne Simonin : A Premature Case of Amnesia in Diderot's La Religieuse," Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 2007:06, 83-100.

(29) For analyses of this and related scenes, see Leo Spitzer, "The Style of Diderot," Linguistics and Literary History (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962), 135-91; Angelica Goodden, The Backward Look: Memory and the Writing Self in France, 1580-1920 (Oxford: Legenda, 2000), 96-104; Alexandre Wenger, "From Medical Case to Narrative Fiction: Diderot's La Religieuse," SVEC 2013:14, 17-30; and Anne Vila, "Sensible Diagnostics in Diderot's La Religieuse", MLN 105 (1990): 774-99.

(30) La Religieuse in Diderot, CEuvres completes, DPV, vol. 11:90; Memoirs of a Hun, trans. Francis Birrell (London: Elek Books Limited, 1959), 16. I have occasionally modified this translation for the sake of precision.

(31) La Religieuse (DPV), 123-24. Victor Sage focuses on this particular use of the term automate in his essay "Diderot and Maturin: Enlightenment, Automata, and the Theatre ofTerror,' in Avril Horner, ed., European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange, 1760-1960 (Manchester U. Press, 2002), 55-70.

(32) Although Diderot alludes in the novel to the polemics that opposed the Jansenists and Jesuits, he doesn't construct Suzanne as a member of either camp. However, when faced with the hostile, anti-Jansenist Sister Sainte-Christine (who replaces Mme de Moni after her death), Suzanne "adopts a Jansenist position of resistance [...] she guards the dictates of her conscience ferociously." Mita Choudhury, Convents and Nuns in Eighteenth-Century Politics and Culture (Cornell U. Press, 2004), 26.

(33) See "Le Dossier des convulsionnaires" in Diderot, Oeuvres completes, edition chronologique (Le Club Francais du livre, 1970), 4:764-88. See also d'Alembert's critical article "Convulsionnaires," (Histoire ecclesiastique), in the Encyclopedie, 4:171.

(34) "Cinqmars et Derville" in Diderot, Oeuvres completes, edition chronologique, 4, 753-54.

(35) D'Alembert also underscored the theatricality of the convulsionaries in his Histoire de la destruction des Jesuites (1763), where he declared that the French authorities should order them to perform "their disgusting farces not in a garret but at the fair [foire], for money, between the tight-rope walkers and goblet players, who will soon make them a flop"; Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, Oeuvres (Paris: Belin, 1821), 2:70. In a remark to Catherine II (written around 1773), Diderot intimated that the authorities had done precisely that: "when the ministry persecuted them, the convulsionaries proliferated. Fortunately, none of them were put to death. Even more fortunately, a wise magistrate allowed them to perform their farce in public, wherever they wanted, and even offered them a space at the fair [foire]. And then there were no more convulsionarles"; Maurice Tourneux, ed., Diderot Et Catherine II (Paris: Calmann Levy, 1899), 298.

(36) See Aram Vartanian, "Diderot's Rhetoric of Paradox, or, the Conscious Automaton Observed," Eighteenth-Century Studies 14 (1981): 379-405; and Anne Vila, "Penseurs profonds: Sensibility and the Knowledge-Seeker in Eighteenth-Century France," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 35 (2013): 125-46.

(37) Le Reve de d'Alembert, DPV vol. 17, 171.

(38) "Distraction", Encyclopedie, iv:1061. On the postive cast given to mind-wandering elsewhere in the Encyclopedie, see David W. Bates, Enlightenment Aberrations: Error and Revolution in France (Cornell U. Press, 2002), 19-40.

(39) Caroline Jacot-Grapa proposes some interesting parallels between religious enthusiasm as experienced by the Camisards and aesthetic enthusiasm as conceived by Diderot and Rousseau; see "Le camisard et le philosophe: sur l'enthousiasme" in Les Extremites des emotions. Du spectaculaire a l'inexprimable, Actes du colloque international de mars 2007 B. Boudou, ed. and L. Picciola (Nanterre: Universite Paris Ouest Nanterre La Defense, 2009), 313-29.

(40) "Melancholy is a temperamental habit with which one is born, and which doesn't come through study. If it came through study, then all studious men would be afflicted with it, which isn't true." Refutation d'Helvetius, in Diderot, Oeuvres completes (Paris: 1875), 2:355.

(41) Salon de 1767, J. Seznec and J. Adhemar, eds. (Oxford U. Press, 1963), 148-50.

(42) '"Diderot would rent carriages, forget them, and pay for the entire day; he would also forget the day, the hour, the month, even the people with whom he'd started talking; he would continue to spew forth monologues with them, like a somnabulist.'" Joseph Grasset, Demifous et demiresponsables (Paris, 1907), 164. Grasset does not give a source for the quotation: he seems to have taken it verbatim from the 1889 French translation of Cesare Lombroso's L'uomo di genio in rapporto alla psichiatria, alia storia ed all'estetica (Turin, 1887).

(43) As he wrote to his mistress Sophie Volland in the autumn of 1765, "My taste for solitude increases by the moment; yesterday, I went out in my dressing gown and nightcap to go dine at d'Amilaville's house. I've taken an aversion to dress clothes; my beard grows as much as it likes." Oeuvres de Diderot (Paris, 1997), vol. 5, 541-42 and 556.

(44) DPV: Vol. 24, 539.

(45) Refutation d'Helvetius (DPV) 24: 538-39. Dinah Ribard underscores that Fontenelle's portrait of Leibniz as a solitary (on which Diderot's is probably based) glosses over the very active, worldly existence which Leibniz led as a courtly diplomat. Ribard, Raconter, vivre, penser, histoire des philosophes, 1650-1766 (Paris: Vrin, 2003), 130.

(46) Daniel Brewer, The Discourse of Enlightenment: Diderot and the Art of Philosophizing (Cambridge U. Press, 1993), 33.

(47) Louis Lambert in Honore de Balzac, La Comedie humaine (Paris, Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, 1980), 11:678 (abbrevated as LL).

(48) On the enigmatic character of Louis Lambert, see Juan Rigoli, Lire le delire. Alienisme, rhetorique et litterature en France au XIXe siecle (Paris: Fayard, 2001), 477-517; and Florence Vatan, "Le Comble du singulier: genie et idiotie dans le discours medical au XIXe siecle (l'exemple de Louis Lambert)" in Figures de la singularite, ed. Rolf Wintermeyer and Michel Kauffmann (Paris, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2014), 155-66.

(49) For example, in Madame Bovary, Charles Bovary thinks of stories of catalepsy and the "miracles of magnetism" while hoping that his wife Emma is going to rise up any minute from the bed in which she has just expired, after poisoning herself. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary [1857] (Paris: les Belles Lettres, 1945), 187.

(50) See Etienne Trillat, Histoire de l'hysterie (Paris: Seghers 1986); Arnaud, L'invention de l'hysterie; and Nicole Edelman, Les Metamorphoses de l'hysterie: Du debut du XIXe siecle a la Grande Guerre (Paris: Editions de la Decouverte, 2003).

(51) On sexual dimorphism as theorized by Cabanis and other turn-of-the-century French thinkers, see Anne Vila, Enlightenment and Pathology: Sensibility in the Literature and Medicine of Eighteenth-Century France (Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1998), 225-57.

(52) Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis, Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme [1802] (Geneva: Slatkine reprint, 1980), 313.

(53) "The greatest aptitude for work that requires either a strong, active imagination, or persistent and profound meditations, often depends on a generally ill state introduced into the system by the disturbance of the functions of certain abdominal organs." Cabanis, Rapports, 229-30.

(54) Jan Goldstein, Hysteria Complicated by Ecstasy: The Case of Nanette Leroux (Princeton U. Press, 2010), 97.

(55) Dictionnaire des sciences medicales, vol. 51 (Paris, 1821), 60.

(56) Claude Etienne Bourdin, Traite de la catalepsie (Paris: Librairie des sciences medicales, 1841), 6.

(57) See the chapter "Mesmerizing Voices: Music, Medicine, and the Invention of Dr. Miracle" in Heather Hadlock, Mad Loves: Women and Music in Offenbachs "Les Contes d'Hoffmann" (Princeton U. Press, 2000), 42-66. I thank Tili Boon Cuille for directing me to this study.

(58) I am adapting the term "la nuit de l'individu" from a chapter title in Caroline Jacot Grapa, Dans le vif du sujet: Diderot, corps et Ame (Paris, Classique Garnier, 2009), 347-453.
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Title Annotation:Denis Diderot
Author:Vila, Anne
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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