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April 2017, vol 13 no 1

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Peter Grandbois

After the leaves fall, the black birds lift one by one

The history of madness is the history of power. The Great Confinement—as Foucault called it—begins in the late 17th century, reaching its height in the 18th, the rise of asylums coinciding with that of prisons, as the mentally ill were often housed with prisoners—a practice that continues today. Asylums served three functions, none of which had anything to do with treatment: Keep the mad confined to avoid familial shame; Contain the "terrible ulcer upon the body politic" (Diderot) so that the contagion of madness doesn’t spread; And provide a site for spectacle where the populace could pay a small fee to watch the mentally ill sit chained to a cold floor, wallowing in their own waste.

Unstrung by silence
the harp of our body plays—
bare branch in the wind.