Apples and Moustaches: Montaigne’s Grin in the Face of Infection

  • Hélène Cazes


There could be no more intense and threatening conception for the transmission of disease than a theory of some ubiquitous, potent and inescapable infection whose origins are untraceable and whose contact is unavoidable. Contagion in such a conception would be the unstoppable and universal spreading of death, recognized by the symptoms of the malady and the span of its action; impossible to counter by the isolation of its physical source, the outbreak of epidemics would leave its potential victims with quarantine as their only defence: that is to say, separation from the community of either the patients stricken with the disease or the healthy, fleeing the ‘infected areas’ to the countryside or some more distant destination. Moreover, this conception of fatal contagion would be all the more appalling if the theory of infection relied on implicit, imprecise and unperceivable principles, such as was the case before germs could actually be observed and accounted for. In other words, implicit theories belong to the imaginary representations of the world, and the place of man in it; before microorganisms were first seen and understood, the descriptions and prevention of epidemics pertained to evasive systems of thought. Medicine, folklore, literature or religion may then be analysed, not as such, but as discourses where a collective conception is at work.


Implicit Theory Burning Wood Body Odour Odoriferous Substance Collective Conception 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • Hélène Cazes

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