Monday, June 01, 1998

Sibling Incest, Madness, and the "Jews"

Sibling Incest, Madness, and the "Jews"
By Sander L. Gilman
Social Research, Vol. 65, No.1 (Summer 1998),  pp. 401-433

How does one organize the categories that we call "deviance"?  To examine the nosology of the deviant in modern (post-Enlightenment) culture one is constrained to use categories of analysis that arise in the spheres of law, medicine, and the social sciences.  That is, the history of deviance in popular and high culture comes to be the reworking of "scientific" categories of difference that overlay the fantasies of the difference, often more complex and more far-reaching than the models themselves.  Incest is just such a category of deviance in modern culture.  One of the most interesting phenomena in the intense, public debate over the past decade about child abuse and incest is the virtual absence of sibling incest as a topic of concern (1).  Ian Hacking has explored the history and philosophy of memory / false memory and the literature on child abuse in the context of the modern fascination with multiple personality (Hacking, 1995).  The object that he is studying simply does not center on sibling incest because the contemporary debate on multiple personalities and abuse do not seem to focus on this problem.  However, it was a question that dominated the debates on incest in precisely the period in French culture from 1874 to 1886 that Hacking quite correctly sees as the period in which the concatenation of relationships he is exploring is made first.  Sibling incest was touchstone for the incest and inbreeding discussion of the late-nineteenth century and one of the often cited "social problems" of that day.  

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