Read The Truth Machine Online

Authors: Geoffrey C. Bunn

The Truth Machine (10 page)

Modernity, according to Weber, is characterized by the disenchantment with personal authority and its replacement by bureaucracy. But charismatic authority can nevertheless thrive in scientific domains, especially in situations
replete with endemic uncertainty. Charismatic forms of authority are not premodern artifacts; they are central to the forces that shape late modernity.
Criminal anthropology was an ambiguous and conflicted scientific enterprise, one threatening to break apart under the weight of its contradictions. Lombroso's personal magnetism sustained the enterprise and defended it against hostile attacks. As an “inveterate dabbler,” he could mediate between orthodox medicine and fringe practices, between science and superstition, and between the clinic and the theater.
He embodied criminal anthropology's contradictory tensions, but his status guaranteed the stability of the enterprise. He inspired great loyalty: “It has become a dogma that the dogma of the born criminal has been thoroughly disproved,” wrote Zurich professor of psychiatry Eugen Bleuler in 1896, “but this is absolutely not the case. Not a single valid argument has been advanced against Lombroso's conception.” It was an incontestable fact that criminals possessed specific “characterological attributes,” according to Bleuler, such as “moral defects, a lack of inhibition [and] excessive drives.”
Tarde's suggestion that the Lombrosoian Enrico Ferri was also able to reconcile opposites and balance opposing tensions could easily have been directed at the Italian master himself: “He possesses in the highest degree the faculty—natural to every born orator—of assembling and comprehending, in his ample formulas, the most contradictory assertions, without the slightest suspicion that there is any antagonism between them.”

The closer an empirical discipline gets to effective social organization, the more its claims become depicted as unified, essential, and unalterable.
Criminal anthropology, to a large extent, was held together by the force of Lombroso's personal magnetism. The science had to present itself as the compilation of undeniable truths in order to claim its right to define the problems associated with criminality and to recommend solutions.
Despite amassing a veritable encyclopedia of numbers, compelling images, and persuasive narratives, Lombroso never managed to define the criminal without ambiguity. Nor was this possible, even in theory, given that criminology was such an “intertextual bricolage,” a mixture of discourses structurally incapable of producing unified knowledge. As late as 1897, Alfred Gautier, a Swiss professor, was still able to claim that criminology could be described “as a conglomerate, and not a science properly called.”
“To what cause is this stationary agitation of criminal anthropology attributable?” Tarde asked. “I am bound to say, to the failure to get Lombrosianism out of the way.”
Criminal anthropology was not moribund because “Lombrosianism is in its grave.” “No!
The great hindrance to the progress of criminal anthropology is the obstinacy of its creator in adhering to the narrow conception, a hundred times demolished, which he formed in his youth, and to which he clings in spite of everything.”
Tarde attributed the lack of progress in criminology to Lombroso himself. But what underpinned and stabilized criminal anthropology was the presence, practice, and persona of Cesare Lombroso. The charismatic figure, the image, the myth of Lombroso guaranteed the security of criminological discourse. A key principle of its sustainability and coherence, Lombroso's charismatic authority was one of the foundational elements of the spectacular science of criminology.

“Supposing that Truth is a woman—what then?”
The Enigma of Female Criminality

The significance of the factor of sexual overvaluation can be best
studied in men, for their erotic life alone has become accessible
to research. That of women—partly owing to the stunting effect
of civilized conditions and partly owing to their conventional
secretiveness and insincerity—is still veiled in an impenetrable

—Sigmund Freud (1905)

Her great art is the lie.

—Friedrich Nietzsche (1885)

One strand of the Western philosophical tradition has long considered woman to be an inherently secretive, deceptive, and duplicitous entity. At least since the Renaissance, the female body has been habitually associated with the mystery and generative power of nature. During the nineteenth century, women were increasingly defined by male scientists in terms of their corporeality: creatures enslaved by their passions.
Unlike the male mind, which was supposed to be unassailably free and governed by reason, the female mind was thought to be feeble, and easily overwhelmed and exhausted. The rational, public, trustworthy, and robust male mind was positioned at one pole on a continuum, the dangerous, private, deceptive, and delicate female body at the other. Empathy and insensitivity to pain were considered to be feminine qualities, to be generated and endured in private. Male emotions, however, should be governed by reason, particularly in public. Women should be confined to the domestic sphere where they could nurture children and tend to the emotional needs of their husbands. The home was thought to be where their dangerously unruly subjectivities could best be policed. It was believed that women should be governed, men should be governors.
As Tennyson put it in his poem, “The Princess” (1847): “Man with the head, and woman with the heart / Man to command, and woman to obey; / All else confusion.”

Central to the process and method of nineteenth-century science was an “eagerness to open up the woman and see deeply into the secrets of her body and of creation.”
Late nineteenth-century criminology codified the female body as a cipher, a bearer of secrets about criminality. Women occupied a privileged position within criminological discourse.
It was within the female psyche that criminology sought out “illegible motivations” and “inscrutable sexualities.”
The science came to regard the female body as a conundrum, nothing less than the numinous key to the puzzle of criminality. Like sexology and psychoanalysis, criminology was convinced that “the unknowable can be known, the enigmatic can be solved.”

Such ideas had a long history in the Western philosophical tradition. According to Aristotle, because a woman was a deficient male, her activities should be limited to the household. She should be denied a public voice or a civic role on the grounds that her nature required it. In the
, Aristotle associated male with light, goodness, and the right; woman with darkness, evil, and the left. Plato's philosophy rested on a fundamental opposition between living a body-directed or a soul-directed life: the female body was considered to be the source of all the undesirable human traits.
The binary contrasts established by the ancient Greeks have had a pervasive influence on Western thought. According to Christian lore, God punished Eve's sins by imposing the curse of menstruation on her daughters. Menstrual blood was consequently considered shameful or contaminated, or to possess a “rank smell which any man could detect.”
During the medieval period, nature was personified by two opposing female icons: an untamable temptress responsible for plagues and famines, and a serene, nurturing mother.
In the sixteenth century, according to the humoral theory of the temperaments, while men were considered hot and dry, women were thought to be cold and wet and therefore subject to “a changeable, deceptive, and tricky temperament.”

The ambiguous temptress / mother image was replaced during the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century by a system in which a dangerous and wild nature had to be tamed by mechanistic natural philosophy.
What was considered true of the natural realm was mirrored in the civic. In both France and England, for example, the legal subjection of wives to husbands was seen as guaranteeing the obedience of men and women to the slowly centralizing state.
English common law considered a married couple to be
one person. A wife was deemed “covert,” subsumed by her husband's legal personage. As a dependent and constrained person, it followed that a woman could not be trusted. Lying was considered vile, base, and mean because it arose from circumstances dictating the lives of ignoble people. As Montaigne put it, “children, common people, women, and the sick are most subject to being led by the ears.”
It was the English gentleman's emancipated and unconstrained situation that was thought to guarantee the truth of his assertions.

During in the eighteenth century—when “sex as we know it was invented” —the reproductive organs, for the first time, became the foundation of incommensurable differences between men and women.
Whereas women had been hitherto associated with the flesh, desire, and a willful sexuality, by the mid-nineteenth century ideologies of “maternal instincts” had made their appearance. This process was accelerated by the discovery, in 1843, of the involuntary periodicity of the reproductive cycle, which was interpreted as implying that female sexual pleasure was irrelevant to reproductive success. The Victorians separated the sexes into two radically different spheres that emphasized the dissimilarity of male and female bodies. The female body was associated with nature, passivity, emotionality, and irrationality; the male body with culture, activity, rationality, and reliability. Woman was thought to personify the object of knowledge, man the knowledge-making subject. “Woman is more closely related to nature than man,” insisted Friedrich Nietzsche; “Culture is with her something external, a something which does not touch the kernel that is eternally faithful to Nature.”
This historically situated dichotomy encouraged men to operate in the abstract and the public domain, while women were relegated to practical and domestic spheres. As G. W. F. Hegel put it in his
Philosophy of Right
, “the husband has his real essential life in the state, the sciences, and the like, in battle and in struggle with the outer world and with himself…. In the family the wife has her full substantive place, and in the feeling of family piety realizes her ethical disposition.”

Ascendant in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century, the “Cult of True Womanhood” prescribed “a female role bounded by kitchen and nursery, overlaid with piety and purity, and crowned with subservience.”
Physicians advanced a view of women as frigid and advised them to embrace domesticity.
A social-political doctrine was, thus, systematically transposed into medical, scientific, and philosophical dogma. “To the man, the whole world was his world, his because he was male,” lamented
Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1911, “and the whole world of woman was the home because she was female.”
Women were idealized as the guardians of domestic virtue. Body and mind were thought to be in harmony in women but conflicted in men. Men were obliged to be unemotional, their emotional and sexual impulses construed as being amenable to their will, indulged or repressed as necessary.
In private, however, men were permitted a broad range of emotional expression. Contrary to the stereotype of the emotionally limited Victorian male, the evidence suggests that middle- to upper-middle class masculine roles did not require men to be emotionally controlled and constricted at all times.
In the protected romantic sphere, it seems, men were permitted rich emotional lives.

“Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition,” wrote Darwin in his
Descent of Man
(1871), “chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness.” Bearing a heavy ideological load, Darwin's reduction of gender roles to biology was acute. Whereas a man engaged in competition with other men, displaying selfish ambition as a “natural and unfortunate birthright,” a woman extended her “maternal instincts … towards her fellow-creatures.” “It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man,” Darwin wrote, “but some, at least, of these faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization.”
Most of the participants in these battles for social authority assumed and reinforced this binary model of difference articulated upon sex.
According to Auguste Comte, for example, women's status as the “emotional sex” consigned them to a “state of radical childhood.”
For the neurologist George Beard, education could be hazardous to a woman's health because of the catalytic role it played in the aetiology of neurasthenia, the primary cause of which was
“modern civilization
, which is distinguished from the ancient by these five characteristics: steam-power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences, and the mental activity of women.”
In his
Principles of Sociology
(1876), Herbert Spencer argued that human advance depended on the expenditure of a fixed fund of “energy.” The female body was considered to be at a disadvantage because reproduction diverted energy away from intellectual development.
The Evolution of Sex
(1889), Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thomson suggested that male cells were metabolically catabolic, aggressive, and active. Female cells, however, were anabolic, altruistic, and passive: “We have seen that a deep difference in constitution expresses itself in the distinction between
male and female, whether these be physical or mental… . What was decided among the prehistoric Protozoa cannot be annulled by Act of Parliament.”

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