chapter  1
19 Pages

Reading the "Sensible" Body: Medicine, Philosophy, and Semiotics in Eighteenth-Century France: Anne C. Vila

Over the past twenty years, through inspirations as diverse as Foucault, feminism, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies, scholars have taken a renewed interest in the body and the meanings it held during the French Enlightenment. 1 This interest has in turn brought about a rediscovery of the period's biomedical theory, a field that did much to shape knowledge during an era when the mindbody relation, the physical contours of the psyche, and the forms, limits and mechanisms ofknowledge were all subjects of intense scrutiny and speculation.2 Thanks, in part, to the secular, empiricist, monistic intellectual climate cultivated by the philosophes, medicine and physiology were influential not just in discussions ofmaterialism, sensationalist philosophy, and scientific method, but also in the period's lively debates on human nature and diversity, on civilization's ambiguous effects on the mind and morality, and-last but not least-on the widespread, multifaceted culture of sensibility.