Written by John Borja, GH 20'
Advised by Professor John Merriman
Edited by Aaron Jenkins, SY 22',
Maya Ingram, MC 23'
Few objects associated with the culture and history of France have retained such a mysterious, even mythological status as the glass of absinthe. Its reflective amber, near-emerald hue is recognizable by even the most casual observer of Impressionist art; its licorice aroma, only distinguishable in the absence of water and sugar, and bittersweet aftertaste make it at once a sophisticated, yet easily-drinkable beverage. Absinthe has, in the past few decades, become as associated with the unique ritual of its consumption as with the method of its distillation, marking a massive shift from the discourses that circulated Paris in the early-twentieth century.
The debates that preceded the interdiction of la fée verte, or “the green fairy,” centered on questions of the drink’s potentially destructive properties, such as its purported ability to induce seizures, cause tuberculosis, and render its drinker insane. In recent years, this discourse has been recycled, reaffirmed, and justified morally—it was originally circulated by myriad nineteenth century psychiatrists and demographers in state-sponsored institutions—at the expense of critical reflection on the underlying political and epistemic forces that elevated such knowledge in the first place.
While the resulting shift in dialogue is perhaps unsurprising, given the momentous shift in the European Union’s Food and Drug laws in 1988, which permitted the sale of the absinthe in Europe—although the spirit would remain in a legal gray area in France for the following two decades—this transition can be characterized by two significant shifts in the popular discourse surrounding the drink’s effects, alcoholism, and prohibition, especially in Western Europe and the United States. The first shift in this discourse is a movement away from the isolation of absinthe as the primary perpetuator of alcoholism (to generalize the gamut of potentially negative effects associated with overconsumption of alcohol) in pre-WWI France and toward a discussion of absinthe as an addictive psychedelic substance: a myth which is itself a product of
the spirit’s interdiction. The second transition can be described as a projection of the image of the prostitute onto the bottle of absinthe itself.
I attempt to disentangle the discourses surrounding absinthe during the French Third Republic where the association between absinthe, destitution, hysteria, and the sexualized, feminine image of la fée verte was reified. For those drinking wine on the first floor of a Parisian apartment in 1903, the tavern-dwelling of their fifth-floor neighbor was either the sexual debauchery that kept the others up at night or the ritual that slowed down the productivity of the factory. Furthermore, the association of bars with prostitution and debauchery was a source of anxiety for officials throughout the years of the Third Republic, and especially at the start of WWI, in addition to the declining population destined to force France’s hand against the unified Germany in both industrial and military affairs. A social historical approach, building off of the work of Susanna Barrows, will reveal more of these connections, paradoxes, and supposed solutions, as well as reveal some of the complications involved with the prohibition of an entire industry.
While the image of the absinthe seizure rarely appears in present-day discussions of absinthe’s effects, the science that substantiated the connection between the two in the nineteenth century has been repurposed to support a view of absinthe as a mind-altering, degenerative substance. The goal of this essay is not to affirm or deny any particular assumptions about absinthe’s properties, but rather to analyze how this particularly controversial substance came to carry such a romantic and widely-accepted, yet pernicious and sexualized reputation.1 How could a drink that is credited with the inspiration of a generation of Bohemian artists also be portrayed in the isolating and hallowing ways that artists such as Degas and Manet have? What was the reality about absinthe consumption that is present in the woman’s desperate face in Degas’ L’Absinthe, and for whom was it a reality? 2 How did such portrayals, artistic or otherwise, play into the image pushed by those who sought the interdiction of absinthe in the early twentieth century?
These questions get no less complex when one considers the actual political economy involved in the production and consumption of absinthe in France and Switzerland (where absinthe was invented in its modern spirituous form). The answer is that after nearly 75 years of interdiction, the modern drinking public has forgotten (or rather never knew) that these portrayals were derived from the prohibitionist imagery of alcoholism forwarded by disparate anti-spirit groups, like the Ligue nationale contre l’alcoolisme. Absinthe’s association with sexuality, femininity, and the greater-social threat of alcoholism has been largely separated from the socio-political and economic context in which their ancestors made the decision to prohibit the beverage in France and its colonies. Only in the last forty years has the substance received much popular attention—although only occasionally in English—which has perpetuated a discourse which exalts absinthe’s supposed psychoactive qualities and exceptional nature.
Part of this discursive divergence, which is more present in the popular coverage of the drink’s mystique than in the historiography of alcoholism, is a reduction of the diverse factors involved in bringing about absinthe’s interdiction (near) internationally to a positive, anti-drug narrative centered on the rise of temperance movements and the regulation of the toxic chemical, thujone. Although such an interpretation is valid, and ultimately central to any discussion of the national movement toward prohibition in the early twentieth century, it has nonetheless become the general cultural understanding about the nature of the drink and its history. This conclusion, in isolation, would ignore the finer aspects surrounding public health policy, the medicalization of addiction and behavior, biopolitics, and the political economy of prohibitions, which would ultimately define the conditions by which absinthe’s prohibition would be carried out and the parties involved in its damnation.
I wish to point out a number of links between the stigma of alcoholism that exists throughout Western Europe and North America today and older discourses in these same countries which vilified and feminized alcoholism. But what could have caused these shifts and how can we navigate through the economic, political, religious, and cultural implications involved in these narratives about absinthe and its interdiction to form a cohesive narrative about drug policy, “secular” morality, and prohibitions in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries? How might we circumvent a discussion of the ontology of absinthe, which has captured the minds of the popular audience and perpetuated a discourse of the psychological and fantastic effects of absinthe? By engaging with the question, we, in some sense, give credence to the basic notion that there was something exceptional about the drink in the first place. To arrive at that conclusion, however, is different than using it as the starting point of the study, and I do not wish to continue a discussion that reconciles with these notions, since they limit our understanding of the ways in which absinthe was perhaps the most normal part of a Frenchman’s day.
Absinthe was officially outlawed in France in January 1915, at the start of la Grande Guerre, almost a decade after the first legislative attempts to ban the beverage failed. Although various spirits have used the same ingredients and aspired to the same reputation as absinthe ever since, the original spirit has increasingly captivated historians and the public imagination. This sentiment is reflected in the literature, which has focused on the production, consumption, and artistic representation of the beverage, offering an interpretation of the 1915 interdiction as a fait accompli and the conclusion of a problematic history of alcoholism that was exacerbated by absinthe’s ontological exceptionalism. Few studies have offered a critical analysis of the absinthe ban as a unique prohibition effort that recycled and reified extant racial, sexual, moralist, and classist discourses surrounding alcoholism in a distinct, secular manner.
This study is, therefore, an examination of the efforts of various groups to exert influence on a public divided over the question of absinthe, and how the discourses of a particular influence—backed by chemistry, statistics, psychiatry, and the state—became central to present- day interpretations of absinthe and alcoholism in modern France, which refuse to part from the public imagination. Using the insights of Science and Technology Studies (STS), feminist scholarship, and queer theory, along with the profound insights of Michel Foucault, I hope to complicate and open the cultural and social history of alcohol. By connecting the local experiences of individuals and the exercise of local authority, as illustrated by the departmental and municipal records of the Archives Départementales of the Doubs in Besançon and the municipal archive of Pontarlier, I aim to provide an image of French temperance as the legislative product of a long genealogy that intricately links alcohol consumption to the social isolation of the physically disfigured/disabled and the mentally ill, the degeneration of individuals and their descendants, the transfer of venereal disease, political revolution (especially
following the Paris Commune in 1871 and the Révolte du Midi in 1907), and a threat to the industrial prosperity of the nation3.
Alcoholic Genes and Statistical Means
The prohibition of absinthe took a very distinctive shape relative to the greater global temperance movement in the same era, which fought on primarily moralistic and religious grounds for the prohibition of all alcoholic beverages. The French case was certainly unique in that the interdiction of absinthe represented the high point in a series of largely impotent temperance efforts in France—one need only look at the political economy of such a decision to gauge how significant the interdiction really was on the economy of France. But it was also relatively limited. By outlawing absinthe, somehow all of the alcoholism plaguing France and the range of problems associated therewith in the prohibitionist imaginary disappeared. In Protestant countries in Europe and much of North America, in particular, the intellectual battlegrounds on which the war over prohibition was waged integrated many of the same arguments against absinthe in France into their arguments against alcohol more generally.4 Many have even argued that most Frenchmen saw their consumption of alcohol to be of a milder sort than the form it took in the other countries on the continent and across the Atlantic. Such attitudes were certainly common in the early years of the Third Republic, to which the 1875 Grande Dictionnaire du XIXe siècle’s description of alcoholism attests: “in our country, although drunkenness is not unknown, it is far from having a character as repellent and as nefarious as in England and in America.” As Barrows noted, “the disparity between French moderation and Anglo-American dipsomania was attributed to race,” thus creating, according to the Dictionaire, the demand in those countries for large-scale prohibition movements in order to “moderate the hereditary ardor of the Teutonic race and the Anglo-Saxon race for alcoholic spirits”; interestingly enough, full prohibition was enacted in many of these Protestant, “Teutonic” countries (largely thanks to their powerful, religious Temperance organizations).5Moreover, it is quite significant that the sensitive issue of the “French race” is evoked in this moment of national political uncertainty, a phenomenon that has not escaped scholars of the marginalized.6 Perhaps the most proximate form of prohibition to France was that of absinthe in Switzerland, the country with whom France’s history of domestic absinthe production is intimately tied. The tale of Jean Lanfray echoed throughout Western Europe after 1907, reminding women, in particular, of the dangers of alcohol abuse. According to the story, on Augsust 28, 1905, Jean Lanfray, a Frenchman living in the Vaud Canton of Switzerland, came home after an evening of drinking and murdered his pregnant wife and two children. This story is widely cited as the first moment in a chain of events that would result in the interdiction of absinthe in the hexagon. While the story was widely circulated by European temperance groups as a call to prohibit spirits and absinthe, in particular, the claim that the Swiss familicide directly resulted in the interdiction that would follow nearly ten years later would be overly simplistic. As I demonstrate in this section, the relationship between moral virtue and temperance was not one captured so much by affect as by data, marking a major contrast between the progression of the temperance movement in France and those within Protestant countries in Europe and North America. The science, statistics, and economic calculations to outlaw absinthe seemed to have driven legislators to take resolute action in the early twentieth century in the arenas where the ordre morale had failed. Furthermore, the fact that the French abstained from extending the prohibition of alcohol beyond absinthe, even to spirits more generally, make it a particularly unique case within the global trend toward alcohol prohibition in the early-twentieth century.
The image of the alcoholic parent neglecting their spousal and parental responsibilities was prominent, but the conversation was more complex than simply assigning the labels of villain and martyr to a deeply troubling story about drug-induced domestic violence. Despite the European consensus that alcoholism was to be curbed and that France had a particularly problematic relationship with the substance, France still interpreted the story of Jean Lanfray not so much as a call to take action against the causes of alcoholism in the countryside and city alike, but as a reminder of absinthe’s unique ability to drive an otherwise “average” alcoholic to murder. The statistical outlier was not so much excessive consumption of alcohol as excessive drinking of absinthe, which could produce the violent incidents so widely discussed in France and beyond.
Justifying the Means
William Coleman’s book, Death is a Social Disease looks at the development of terms like hygiène and salubrité publique in the nineteenth century, a period in which science was deployed to address questions of public health in France. The role of Malthusianism and natalism in nineteenth-century France, and particularly after 1871, played a central role in these spirited arguments, as Joshua Cole emphasizes in his analysis of the development of statistics as a motor of political action in this same period.7
Lion Murard and Patrick Zylberman address the interconnectivity of issues of alcoholism with issues of hygiene: a crucial link to understanding the public messaging in favor of, and the state’s justification of, prohibition. Various international conferences, federations, associations, and “alliances” sought to address the danger of cholera and tuberculosis to France’s urban labor force by regulating and banning certain alcoholic beverages, namely absinthe:
"Non moins évocateur le cadre de sa première manifestation publique, qui n’aura pas été au souvenir de Fuster quelque brûlant symposium sur la pandémie tuberculeuse, mais le premier Congrès antialcoolique tenu à Paris en 1903. Vice radical d’où pullulent, parait-il, tous les autres … « M. Cheysson nous lut d’abord un rapport de haute tenue […] où chaque phrase sonnait le ralliement, appelait l’union […]. Et bientôt il ne s’agissait plus de ce seul désastre, l’asservissement à l’alcool, la folie de la fée verte. Nous étions entrainés plus loin, partout où sanglotent des mères, où toussent des tuberculeux, où les enfants ont des faces amaigries des vieillards, dans l’odeur chaude des tandis, partout où s’épuisent les corps et s’hébètent les cerveaux […]. Mais Casimir-Perier s’était levé […]. Il expliquait la connexité des problèmes. Il démontrait l’impérieuse nécessité de les résoudre ensemble, en commun. Il évoquait la politique qui est au-dessus des politiciens, celle de la bonne trêve, la politique des mains qui se cherchent et veulent se serrer". »8
While the socioeconomic problems affecting the French proletariat in the early twentieth century had an undeniable medical dimension, the issue of urban poverty and oppressive inequality were attributed to alcoholism itself. If the two overlapped as much as French temperance organizations claimed they had in Primary school curricula—one textbook even claimed that 80 percent of deaths from tuberculosis were directly attributable to alcohol—there would indeed have been an urgent need to act (see figure 1.0).9 In fact, this justification for absinthe’s interdiction has come to define the dominant public discourse on absinthe, even among distillers today. There was a distinct problem with absinthe, whether for its particularly high alcohol content or the presence of thujone therein, thus the government had to take measures to curb it. Although alcoholism is offhandedly mentioned as the true perpetrator of France’s social problems, rather than the particular beverage, the interdiction of absinthe is still justified as a reasonable measure to combat the former problem.
Complete prohibition was unconscionable, yet the interdiction of absinthe nonetheless remains a symbolic prohibition in the public imaginary.10
Absinthe remains exceptional, despite its legalization and return from arcane obscurity. Furthermore, while this argument persists, the opponents to absinthe’s interdiction were silenced because the exercise of authority on a local and national level continually affirmed the beverage’s difference: it was illegal for nearly a century, while all other alcohols remained relatively untouched (most restrictions on alcohol in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in France focused on the ingredients used to make absinthe and other spirits rather than the spirits themselves). Such differences were reaffirmed in the psychiatric and biological realms. Absinthe, according to the chemical scientists, was physically addictive, mentally destructive, and genetically poisonous. The psychiatrists studying women in state-sponsored insane asylums used the nosology of such studies—drawing direct connections between types of insanity and forms of consumption—for political ends, in conjunction with the prohibitionist (or rather interdictory) movements that sprung up after the Paris Commune, and which were rejuvenated in 1905 with continuously-growing numbers. The discourse they employed—populated in the late-nineteenth century by the classist, sexist French bourgeoisie and enforced through absinthe’s complete interdiction at all levels in 1915—has persisted and consecrated, and any opposition thereto has been flattened and homogenized. Even Émile Durkheim maintained that the industrial working class and urban poor were the particular victims of alcoholism, suicide, and anomie.11As Foucault often prescribes to researchers of phenomena that are inseparable from the discourses which define them, we must study said phenomenon at the moment when it was not yet defined as something separate and, furthermore, investigate the processes—political and intellectual—by which the dominant discourse reaffirmed itself at the margins. All discourses must have political and institutional power(-knowledge) that affirm them, and the interdiction of absinthe has proceeded in the same manner12.
Foucault’s theory of power, like Nietzsche’s, is rarely totalizing, and resistance at the periphery can often act as the smoke leading us toward the fire at the center; the interaction of competing forces is a welcome complication, and one which will hopefully produce a more nuanced view of the contingent political, gender, and class dynamics present in this period of national reconsideration about the question of drink and governance. Some historians, like Catherine Kudlick in her essay “Fighting the internal and external enemies: Alcoholism in World War I France” have argued that the Great War should be seen as the moment when France began to reckon with its and its colonies’ elevated levels of alcohol consumption relative to the rest of the world, thus making the period directly preceding it an extremely crucial place for investigating changing notions of alcoholism, drunkenness, and the place of drink.13 As Barrows noted on the subject, “[s]o something is changing, if you look at the distribution and the consumption patterns and how diversified France had been in the early 19th century and compare how amazingly homogenous it looks a century later. By the time the First World War breaks out, regional drinking patterns are slowly giving way to national ones.”14
To begin to understand this transformation, the archives are the place to start. In 1908, M. Edmond Couleru, « Procureur de la République à Pontarlier, » published a study rejecting many of the pre-defined consequences of absinthe consumption on the human and communal body.
This work represented the voice of the distillers and inhabitants of Pontarlier who feared the closing of the region’s most profitable industry.15 In analyzing the demography of the arrondissements of Pontarlier and Montbéliard, which make up the Département du Doubs, Couleru engages in a critical examination of the claims of the outspoken, and increasingly more vocal, Ligue Nationale contre l’alcoolisme (formerly the Société Française de Tempérance) concerning the role of absinthe in the mental and moral degeneration of the French race.
Although these documents were « demandés par la commission parlementaire d’hygiène chargée d’étudier le projet de loi portant prohibition de l’absinthe » in 1907, Couleru used them as the source material to make his own surprising, yet statistically-sound conclusions.16
The Looming Interdiction: The state acts on behalf of the population
In a letter written on June 5, 1907 to the Mayor of Pontarlier, Charles-Emile Magnin, the
Sub-Prefect Pontarlier, Ernest-Cunibert Deniset (himself a former distiller), relayed Clemenceau’s demand for an investigation into the effect of absinthe consumption on the demography of the arrondissement of Pontarlier (despite its peripheral location along the Swiss border, this region was the center of France’s production of absinthe)17. Looking at both the broader population trends and particular changes in the cause of death, specifically between 1871 and 1905, these studies were clearly understood to foreground the interdiction of the absinthe industry. In Deniset’s letter to the mayor of Pontarlier, the Sub-Prefect wrote:
"Je vous prie de vouloir bien me faire parvenir d’urgence les renseignements suivants demandés par la commission parlementaire d’hygiène chargée d’étudier le projet de loi portant prohibition de l’absinthe : La nomenclature du décès suivant catégories (surtout tuberculose), tous les 5 ans, de 1871 à 1905, avec, si possible,les moyennes quinquennales pour les années 1885 à 1889 et 1901 à 1905, pour la Ville de Pontarlier ; 2eme lechiffre total des décès annuels suivant l’âge, pour la période de 1871 à 1905 ; 3eme le nombre des naissances pour la Ville de Pontarlier, pendant chacune des années qui se sont écoulées de 1871 à 1905".18
The writers of such letters were well aware that the investigations they were completing would be used to add more restrictions and taxes to the industry, and eventually shut it down. The telos of their enquête was clear from the start: complete interdiction. In many ways, the transparency of the government and its clear direction toward prohibition set it apart from many other Northern European countries and the United States, where prohibition proceeded in a less regulatory direction than did France. Other countries resorted instead to immediate prohibition of all alcohols, thereby avoiding recurring debates in a potentially less-accommodating political environment. France implemented more multi-dimensional, although specific and long-term, policies that steadily weakened the absinthe industry by restricting the types of products they were allowed to sell, expanding the regulations on those products (thus producing the first regulations on thujone in the world), and taxing them to the point of near unprofitability.19
These statistics were not just numbers to have, but were mobilizations of power in themselves. Their evidentiary supremacy and specious transparency gave the individuals who produced them the right to speak and act on behalf of the population their data represented. The use of “science” and “statistics” as such should be viewed as far more rhetorical than empirical.20 To say that the Ligue’s scientific premise was invalid or rejected following Couleru’s work would be to ignore the persistence, pervasiveness, and potency of the notions of “unhygienic absinthe” (an argument which has since disappeared from the mainstream) and the beverage’s capacity to « rendre fou et criminel » (an argument which has not). Couleru was able to use the source material in a way that contrasted with the intent behind their collection, which was to prove absinthe’s connection to crime and disease. Few documents in the archives are able to communicate contemporary opinions against the interdiction of absinthe, save through third-party accounts by newspapers and the meeting notes of Syndicat des Distillateurs d’Absinthe de Pontarlier, who were actually somewhat sympathetic to calls for regulation of their industry.21 In fact, for many of the prominent distillers of Pontarlier, the absinthe being consumed in the cities was not in fact “natural.” Rather, they argued, clandestine distillers concocted fraudulent absinthes using illicit and deadly ingredients—supposedly adding artificial green dyes to high-proof beet alcohol— in order to sell knockoff absinthe at a fraction of the price of its “hygienic,” Pontissalien counterpart. This interpretation could explain why absinthe was so damaging yet widely consumed. The distillers would continue to fight restrictions on the “legal” absinthe industry, pushing legislators to focus their energy instead on the elicit backrooms distilleries where “absinoïdes” were being mixed à froid. This was, at least, the narrative presented by Adolphe Girod, the Deputy of the Doubs, in his defense of the absinthe industry in the summer of 1907.
In many ways, the plight of the “hygienic” absinthe industry from Pontarlier mirrored that of the winegrowers in the South of France, who in 1907 revolted against the government to show their disdain for increases in taxation on the legal wine industry while permitting fraudulent, often foreign, competitors to sell wine at a discount. With the Phylloxera crisis of the late-nineteenth century, the vignerons of the uprising sought an equitable, pacifist remedy to their undue suffering; they had survived and innovated during the crisis yet faced much of the burden of wine’s increased price. Meanwhile, outlaws produced stronger, more-alcoholic wines (with the addition of sugar), much like the backroom distillers that supposedly produced fraudulent “absinthoïdes.” These large public demonstrations, largely organized and led by avowed socialist and communists (thus forming a Midi Rouge) across numerous cities in the South, including Perpignan, Nîmes, and Béziers, sparked a fierce response from Clemenceau, who “used violent tactics of repression with ease and virtual impunity,” squashing the revolt and killing a number of innocent civilians.22 Such events would push the President of the Conseil to be more wary of potentially subversive alcohol producers.
In this same fashion, the study by the Commission parlementaire d’Hygiène was of dire concern to the Département of the Doubs. The collection of documents was an immense effort, requiring records from various sources, to which the Prefect of the Doubs attests in his response to Clemenceau’s demand for renseignements on May 2, 1908. In particular, the Prefect notes that much of this information originated in sources collected by the: « les bureaux de la Préfecture.
Ceux contenues dans les tableaux 2,3 et 9 ont été recherchés par le personnel de la mairie de Pontarlier. M. Le Directeur des contributions indirects m’a fourni les renseignements consignés dans le tableau no 1. Enfin, l’étude relative à la criminalité dans l’arrondissement de Pontarlier a été faite par M. Couleru, Procureur de la République à Pontarlier. »23 The Minister of the Interior was told to keep his eye out for Couleru’s critical conclusions; hopefully, they, along with the economic arguments presented by Girod, would save the absinthe industry from the looming interdiction.
In the resulting work—funded by the General Council of the Doubs and the Municipal Councils of both Besançon and Pontarlier and published a year after the investigation concluded—Couleru argued that there was no correlation between absinthe consumption, crime, mental degeneration (leading to institutionalization), or population decline. To underline his statistically rigorous argument without necessarily republishing all of the original tables used in his analysis, I will simply restate his conclusions:
"Ce travail, par l’authenticité officielle de ses chiffres et conclusions, réfutait victorieusement le grand argument des adversaires de l’absinthe, et ce, sur le terrain même choisi par la Commission, dans la patrie du terrible produit … Il démontrait pour l’arrondissement-type de Pontarlier, l’inexactitude du fameux aphorisme, répété à satiété, comme un axiome, par les innombrables pétitions de la Ligue national contre l’alcoolisme : [l’absinthe rend fou et criminel]".24
Inverting the slogan of the Ligue Nationale contre l’alcoolisme concerning the role of absinthe in the mental and moral degeneration of the French race (the essence of which can be easily discerned in figure 1.1, where the relationship between “absinthism” and alcoholism is reflexive: they are one in the same25), Couleru accordingly writes:
"Nous avons ainsi parcouru ensemble les deux tiers du sujet et déterminé successivement le chiffre de la population et celui de la consommation de l’absinthe. Cette consommation a plus que décuplé en 36 ans. Si donc l’aphorisme des adversaires de cette liqueur est exact, si, suivant la formule classique, « l’absinthe rend fou et criminel », si, en un mot, le développement de la criminalité marche de pair avec celui de la consommation de l’absinthe, nous allons constater que, dans l’arrondissement producteur du terrible poison, la criminalité, dans la même période, a également décuplé. Il n’en est rien, hâtons-nous de le dire. La statistique le prouve, celle de la grande criminalité d’abord".26
Such a direct attack on the growing and eventually juridically-affirmed notion of absinthe as an object of public, and ultimately, governmental concern is directly under fire in Couleru’s monograph. While utilizing the raw data on population (in the État civil), crime rates, and absinthe consumption for the arrondissement of Pontarlier, which he was charged with collecting for the Commission parlementaire, Couleru employed a strikingly methodologically-sound and politically-conscious means of argumentation on behalf of the distillers, the local economy, and the region as a whole.
In an ironic use of these chiffres, Couleru published a number of tables and colorful line graphs to illustrate the relative success of Pontarlier compared to the subprefecture of one particular prohibitionist politician: Adolph Schmidt, the Deputy of the Vosges from Saint-Dié.27 Schmidt pushed the Commission parlementaire d’Hygiène to not only recognize the link between absinthe consumption with the gamut of social woes and public health concerns, but to forcibly eliminate them by outlawing the beverage outright. The rivalry between the Doubs and Vosges departments with regard to absinthe was perhaps the defining contest in the history of French prohibition.
In a letter dated June 29, 1907, from the Prefect of the Vosges, Pierre Charles Causel (also the Sub-Prefect of Verdun) to the Prefect of the Doubs, Causel relayed the interdictory conclusions of his constituency:
"Considérant l’augmentation continuelle du nombre des aliénés et la mort toujours plus grande que prennent les boissons alcooliques, et en particulier l’absinthe, dans la genèse des crimes les plus violents ; Considérant le danger qui fait courir à notre pays, la diffusion toujours plus étendue de la tuberculose ; Considérant enfin qu’il est nécessaire, pour sauvegarder l’existence même de notre race, de combattre par tous les moyens l’extension de l’alcoolisme ; Le Conseil général des Vosges émet le vœu que la fabrication et la vente de l’absinthe soient interdites en France ; que le nombre des débits de boissons alcooliques soit limité et réduit ; Et que des mesures énergiques soient prises pour faire diminuer la consommation des boissons distillées".28
As history has shown, Couleru’s book, regardless of its advanced statistical methodology and political ontology, was ultimately ineffective in turning legislators and elites away from the idea of interdiction—even if it was temporarily delayed or replaced with burdensome financial and legal regulations on ingredients used in the production of legal and illegal absinthes. It was even further from changing minds about absinthe’s complicity in the moral and demographic decay of French society, which was so ingrained in biological, medical, and socio-cultural debates of the era. The sentiments expressed by Causel, albeit a recitation of the record from the Séance du 10 avril 1907 of the Conseil Général des Vosges, were neither novel nor bound to disappear. The discourse around physical disease, like tuberculosis, and mental illness was central to the discourse surrounding absinthe (see figure 1.0). In many ways, this discourse continues today, yet the stakes in Fin-de-siècle France were far greater. Alcoholism, as a disease, was not always as individualized as it is now (as figure 1.1 illustrates), and the ubiquity of absinthe could only entail dire consequences for the population at large.
From the Drunkard to the Alcoholic: Madness and Intoxication
What exactly were absinthe’s opponents drawing on culturally to make their arguments, statistical as they may be. As scholars of Science and Technology Studies have demonstrated so clearly and aptly, even the most ostensibly “hard” sciences are inextricably bound to the social and occupational constraints that surround their field or laboratory work. Moreover, by analyzing the intellectual and scientific war over absinthe waged in the early-twentieth century by Georges Clemenceau, pushed by prohibitionist parties in the Chambre des Députés, and Edmond Couleru, supported by the Conseil général du Doubs and the Conseils municipaux de Pontarlier et de Besançon, three interesting stories arise: one of the social construction of the science used to interdict absinthe, another about the institutional forces which permitted such a prohibition to succeed, and, finally, a more general discursive element which still links absinthe and disease with socially undesirable behavior.
The connection between mental asylums and alcoholism was well reputed, although, like the tenuous connection between crime and the green fairy, this notion was largely a combination of social anxieties and existing discursive trends that go to back to the medieval period. What was once an association with physical disease (i.e. leprosy) had made its way into the discourse surrounding alcoholism, thereby connecting the physical manifestation of disease with underlying mental and social difference. The state institutions shaped by this association, moving the mad and the sickly from the “ship of fools” to the government-run hôpitaux généraux, had discursive consequences which are directly reflected in the scientific studies of the early- twentieth century. In France, in particular, the connection between alcohol, crime, debauchery, disease, and insanity took the form of dependent variables, against which absinthe consumption would be compared. This socially-engineered discourse and association underpinned the science which would justify action against la fée verte.
In his Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault traces the tragic, isolated history of the mentally and mortally ill. In what he terms the “Great Confinement”—beginning in France with the establishment of the first Hôpitaux Généraux in “each city of his Kingdom” on June 16, 1656—European governments transformed the Lazarus houses and Leprosaria, once used to isolate (more so than treat) those carrying the infectious, skin destroying disease of leprosy.
Whereas the drunkards, along with the fools, the lepers and the mentally and mortally ill were once cast out to the sea—which they were in fact widely depicted as doing throughout the Renaissance period—the isolation of the “irrational”, “foolish”, and “mad” in France’s new state-run hospitals, was a new process, imposed from the top-down, rather than from the bottom up. Local strategies of social and physical isolation were absorbed by European governments
with the expansion of medical, clinical, and psychiatric institutions—not to also discount the rise of lay piety in the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries, nor the scarring impact of the Black Death on the European psyche. As the preoccupation with the visual signs of death (whether on the face of the plague victim or in skin legions on the body of the leper) began to disappear, the focus then turned to those forms of difference which did not leave a physical trace and which had to be derived from other forms of discursive, constructed, and embodied difference.29
The administrative transformation brought by the 1656 declaration was significant, not simply because of its effects on the documentation used to study these institutions, but because of the socio-political implications of government-supported interment, as Foucault wrote:
"What, then, was the reality represented by this entire population which almost overnight found itself shut up, excluded more severely than the lepers? We must not forget that a few years after its foundation, the Hôpital Général of Paris alone contained six thousand persons, or around one percent of the population. There must have formed, silently and doubtless over the course of many years, a social sensibility, common to European culture, that suddenly began to manifest itself in the second half of the seventeenth century; it was this sensibility that suddenly isolated the category destined to populate the places of confinement … It organizes into a complex unity a new sensibility to poverty and to the duties of assistance, new forms of reaction to the economic problems of unemployment and idleness, a new ethic of work, and also the dream of a city where moral obligation was joined to civil law, within the authoritarian forms of constraint".30
After the Salpêtrière and Bicêtre, among dozens of other public assistance establishments, were brought under Louis XIV’s control, expanded, and transformed, the confinement of the insane would remain a central aspect of French governance, well past the Revolution over a century later. More than simply categorizing or defining the body by its visible or invisible features, the King had control over the body itself, allowing for both the confinement and the justification thereof to persist and become encouraged. Regardless of the fact that one percent of the French population would be contained in l’Hôpital Général after its establishment, the sense that social ills pervaded society still lingered, regardless of the confinement of the “idle”, “vagabond”, or “unemployed” in state-sponsored “madhouses.”
While leprosy could be distinguished by the sores it left on the flesh of the infected, bubonic plague surmised from the engorged genitals and armpits, and small pox detected from the scarring boils it imposes on otherwise healthy individuals, folly, drunkenness, and insanity did not carry these same visible markings, and, to a stranger, they would hardly be noticed at all. The stigma surrounding “unreason” which developed in the Middle Ages was reinterpreted in the Renaissance period, pushing communities and local governments to ostracize and put out to sea their sickly and dangerous: by 1656, the image of the “ship of fools” would lose its historical, semiotic potency, giving way to a more concrete, if invisible, form of confinement.
The Lazarus House (or the Italian Lazzeratto) would symbolize the physical depository of the disabled, sick, and foreign, left to die in quarantine with the other victims of such diseases.
These facilities were purposed for all such uses: from quarantining the foreign sailors before allowing them to engage with the people of the walled city (a history which goes back to 1377 in the town of Ragusa in present-day Dubrovnik) to isolating the socially-undesirable, potentially- dangerous outcasts (simply by their presence among the healthy and able-bodied populace), such institutions served as the discriminatory and sorting hand of local and national bodies of governance31.
Health boards, rather than the Catholic Order of Saint Lazarus, were charged with investigating the public health concerns of late-medieval and early-modern cities, particularly through Central and Northern Italy. They were the officials—largely comprised of local notable and administrators, rather than physicians or faculty members at the colleges—making the consequential decisions about who was to be arrested and shut up, relegating the sick (and therefore dangerous, despite the lack of a contagion theory of disease at the time) to be interned at said Lazarettos. As Ann Carmichael noted in her book, Plague and the poor in Renaissance Florence, these boards represented some of the earliest government sponsored institutions of public health, although they themselves had their legal and political roots in a much longer history of medieval city sanitation codes. She noted: “the bureaucracies created to manage public health all evolved policies of plague prevention and control that selected one class as the predominant vector of plague contagion. Some were temporary, some permanent, but the decision to re-create health boards was made at virtually the same time everywhere in northern Italy, just as had been the decision to build a lazaretto.” 32 With regard to other social undesirables, Carmichael wrote that “[p]lague controls evolved to encompass prostitutes … for social rather than medical reasons,” adding that “[t]he magistrates restricted the women’s business networks in taverns, citing both the general shame incurred by the city with such open solicitation.”33 The power of institutions to define who is healthy, who is ill, and who is a public hazard—whether based on the embodied features of the individual or their invisible mentality— was a consequential development of the early-modern period, and to ignore its continuity with the knowledge-producing institutions of the state in the modern period would close off a potentially fruitful genealogy.
Of course, I do not wish to imply that this distant history can be simply transplanted onto the case of modern France, let alone the specific nature of the Third Republic. In recognizing the centrality of the history of public health, including the roles played by health boards, leper colonies, and quarantines in reifying notions of racial and ethnic difference, the Australian historian, Alison Bashford, recently remarked: “[t]his kind of exercise of power sat in contrast to then-highly favoured Foucauldian approach, and many of us used Foucault on ‘exile-enclosure’ to think through quarantine, and to consider a more complicated history than a mere ‘exile of the leper’”.34 Surveillance and confinement are corollary forces in the modern state’s control of the population, and they are the foundational technologies of governance upon which biopower is exercised.35
The Acceleration of Biopolitics following the Paris Commune
Foucault’s notion of biopower claims that over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European Governments, and particularly that of France, shifted their focus on the exercise of power away from land, as the unit of measure of productivity, and toward the body of the individual itself. In his world of ubiquitous surveillance, the necessity for physical omnipresence and control via violence (or disciplinary power) was satisfied with the development of the state’s normative power, in which compliance with the law becomes the social norm rather than the consequence of violent repression by the government on the populace. To conclude, in this system, the individual profits from affirming the existing hegemony, and the state is able to control that individual’s time—rather than geographic position—and efficiency. Challenges to this efficient, capitalist hegemony would require repression and new technologies of governance to handle: this was the case of drunkenness. Sally Gershman noted of the integration of this anti- spirit discourse into the state’s secular primary and normal school curricula:
"The emphasis was on the damage caused by alcohol to the individual and to the society. The natural ethics course, which had replaced religious instruction in the state schools, was the primary vehicle for reform. Two years later the curriculum of all courses was revised to include anti-alcohol material. In 1896 the Minister of Education, Emile Combes, extended the campaign to the secondary schools … The denunciations of distilled spirits in the textbooks fitted neatly into the bourgeois stereotype of the virtuous citizen -- punctual, industrious, thrifty, disciplined; conversely idleness, improvidence, and industrial unrest were the fruit of café frequentation. The texts were careful not to condemn such “natural” beverages as wine, beer, and cider, which constituted a part of the national culture as well as a major part of its economy … Two impressions dominate: the tendency to reduce morality to a cash nexus, and the stress laid on fitness for hard work in fields, factories and in military service. The educational goal was to create a docile and reliable working class through the public school system".36
The discourse surrounding alcoholism in the latter half of the nineteenth century was crystal clear, although perhaps inconsistent in retrospect. Using recently developed scientific theories on genetic inheritance, evolution, and racial decline along with demographic data— which illustrated a decline in the greater French population—scientists and politicians mobilized Malthusian notions of scarcity and pushed all Frenchmen to exercise “moral restraint” for the greater good of the population. The conflation of moral with scientific ends was a defining paradox in the French prohibition movement. Was the battle against alcohol a battle for the moral salvation of the French people or a means of extending their lives? Interestingly enough, as opposed to the religious temperance movements that defined the progression of prohibitions in Northern Europe and North America, the French were ostensibly only concerned with the latter question. The life of the individual was to be extended, in the manner explained by Darwin, in order to reproduce more children and perpetuate the species; yet, one can find Judeo-Christian value systems at play in the formation of this problematic itself. The religious origins of even the most statistical and scientific of agendas cannot be separated from the content and consequences of those agendas, despite any perceived progression toward or appearance of secularity (i.e.
The French understanding of their own alcohol problems is unique, since it was at once inwardly focused (curbing excessive consumption in one’s own borders may be seen as a virtuous goal) and at the same time outwardly defensive. The whole focus on the preservation and exceptionalism of the “race” was certainly not responding to itself in isolation; as figure 1.1 illustrates, “le mort de la race” was of the highest concern for French doctors, politicians, and demographers.
The defeat of the French in 1871 to the Prussian statesman von Bismarck, and the subsequent unification of Germany under Wilhelm II, was not only a turning point in the popular imaginary, causing religious, royalist, and conservative reactions to come to the fore of French political life, under the so-called Ordre Morale, but it was also the proximate event of national rivalry, and a particularly sore one. The French-German enmity of history had certainly not dissipated, and in many ways, the German’s external threat was conflated with what conservatives perceived to be the internal threat of feminism, socialism, sexual profligacy, alcoholism, and, for those at the top of the social spectrum who saw French elite culture as the pinnacle of high European society, decadence. For those on the lower end, one could expect to find crime, political discontent, and infertility, or so the government responded.
The question of whether the threat from within (i.e. the Paris Commune and infertile women) or the threat from without (i.e. the Germans) were the cause of France’s defeat was of
pressing political and military concern. This theme would reoccur at the start of World War I, when legislators ostensibly banned absinthe to protect those soldiers defending the country from the outside threat from succumbing to that of the inside. By the arrival of la Grande Guerre in 1914, alcoholism was beginning to be seen as a particularly French problem, even by the French themselves. Through both government policy and the funding of various institutions which extended their goals to the scientific, psychiatric, educational, and medical domains for justification and scientific backing, these threats from “inside” France could be addressed, dealt with, and left in the past with the bodies of the Communards.
As Cole illustrated in his work on gender, politics, and population studies, concern over the “health of the race” was often exacerbated in times of conflict, such as the Franco-Prussian war from 1870-1871 and following Napoleon’s defeat in 181537. The question of population spanned various social and political domains, from the economy to the military. Whether there would be enough French soldiers to recover Alsace-Lorraine, farmers (including those winegrowers who suffered at the hand of the Phylloxera aphid) to feed the population, and husbands to procreate were questions of particular concern for elites38. The declining birth rate of the country was of immense concern to demographer and police officer Louis-Adolphe Bertillon, who found that the marital fertility rate of Prussian women was more than ten percent higher than their French counterparts. Such revelations led him to write: “Thus, we who have the most wives capable of having children, have the least, because our wives are the least fertile.”39 Such fears were not new, but they would gain a particular relevance in the French Third Republic, which, like West Francia, was founded on a Germanic victory and unification. In 1900, in La Question de la dépopulation en France, the Senator Edme Piot wrote, “[i]f French wives had the fertility of German women, we would gain 500,000 children per year.”40 The threat from the inside rendered France unable to guarantee its sovereignty at the hand of their external rivals.
This point has not gone unnoticed by other scholars, although their focus was not particularly on the exact figures calculated in the state’s census. Rather, the whole climate of panic over national preservation in the face of defeat seems to be recurrent in the history of France, and, unfortunately, the measures instituted following these displays of panic seem to leave their mark most visibly on the state. From the Franco-Prussian war, for example, came the French Third Republic and the Ordre Moral, led by a Legitimist, Catholic majority in the parliament. Their hold on the Chambre (and therefore Sénat) would remain until the 1875 elections, when the status of France as a Republic became constitutionally protected.
When Republicans finally controlled the Parliament in subsequent decades, their efforts were not so much to strip the advances made by those who rose to power after the Paris Commune as to supplement them with a secular, republican, state-dominated alternative, thereby extended the role of the government into the lives of all French individuals and the population at large. Curriculum in the now-mandatory secular primary schools was as good a place to ingrain the prohibitionist message in Frenchmen as any, and particularly more so than the punitive jail cell. Nonetheless, the state still exercised immense power over the country’s drinking establishments (or débit de boisson), especially in the early years of the Republic.
Responding to such existential concerns, on January 23, 1873, the first law affecting the individual drinker was passed: public intoxication became illegal. “Forms of café sociability that had been taken for granted during the Second Empire—the right to besot oneself, employ waitresses, install a piano, or sing slightly off-color ditties—were now declared illegal and indeed associated with political subversion.”41 According to articles 2 of the law, individuals convicted twice for ivresse publique would be deprived of the following rights and privileges:
« 1° de vote et d'élection; 2° d'éligibilité; 3° d'être appelée ou nommée aux fonctions de juré ou autres fonctions publiques ou aux emplois de l'administration, ou d'exercer ces fonctions ou emplois ; 4° de port d'armes pendant deux ans, à partir du jour où la condamnation sera devenue irrévocable. »42 Maurice Yvernès, the head of government judicial statistics, recorded the increase in arrests for public intoxication during the early years of the Third Republic, which leveled off after the 1876 election, where the loyalists lost considerably to the Republican majority. Starting with 59,347 total délits in 1873, to 86,418 in 1874, the number peaked in 1875, with 98,482 arrests, but was reduced to an average of 75,026 over the next five years (1876- 1880). One might also note that the number of arrests spiked in1907 (the year in which the interdiction of absinthe was debated in seriousness). While the period of 1901-1905 saw 56,334 average annual offences for ivresse manifeste, that number increased massively between 1906 and 1907, from 52,025 to 75,227. One must also recognize the scope of arrests and measures taken by the Clemenceau ministry, via the gendarmerie, to quell and repress the Révolte du Midi in the South of France.43 The threat of socialism, anarchism, and communism from the discontented winegrowers no doubt drove local authorities, not to mention those directly commissioned by Clemenceau, to weed out individuals involved with the sale of alcohol and radical politics—a connection which was often presumed to exist. The political and moral dimensions involved in promoting and enforcing the 1873 law, rather than any necessary increase in intoxication during these moments of national political uncertainty and perceived radicalism, best explain the fluctuation and spontaneous increases in contraventions, particularly those « jugées par les tribunaux de simple police » (or first-time offenders).44
A doctor from Dinant (in then Côtes-du-Nord, now Côtes d’Armor) notably remarked of the disorganized reentrance of troops to the capital in 1871: “When the troops re-entered Paris we witnessed with our own eyes the drunkenness rife in the army. Troops of all descriptions entered the city in an appalling condition; dirty, ragged, drunk and in disarray. Deprivation and exhaustion undoubtedly contributed to their condition, but alcohol was largely responsible.”45 Over the next decade, however, worried onlookers turned their fears from French soldiers’ consumption to the alcoholic Communards that weakened France from the inside. Not only did they squander what precious resources the Army had in the année terrible from 1870-1871, but they also personified the potential for degeneracy and moral bankruptcy.46Alexandre Jacques François Brière de Boismont, a psychiatrist from Rouen who wrote widely on mental illness, hallucinations, apparitions, and suicide, noted in his 1872 publication on the connection between alcohol and aliénation mentale (a term first used by Philippe Pinel):
"Now one can understand the bestial and savage faces of the workers in the uprising, the thefts, the massacres, and the arson; the insanity, imbecility and idiocy which affected such a large number of them; their vicious instincts, their lack of morality, their laziness, their tendency toward crime, and in the long run, their reproductive impotence. In short, it is not surprising to see that each new revolution brings an increase of atrocities and degeneration"!47
The Communards, rather than the dead troops who fought patriotically for their country, symbolized what sort of racial death France would face if it could not curb its drinking problem—or at least manage the demographic, political, and economic danger that alcoholism posed.
Following France’s defeat in 1871, Temperance movements became more visible and influential in the capital and across the country, starting quite symbolically with the formation of the Société patriotique de temperance only one month after the German encirclement of the capital.48 In 1873, the Société française de tempérance was formed, and it was quick to capitalize on the recently-passed order against ivresse publique. This law banned public intoxication and the abetting thereof, including the sale alcohol to the already drunk and minors. It also changed the legal drinking age to 16. Such measures were dissatisfactory for even the elites that constituted the Société. One might also note that the French Temperance Society, composed largely of intellectuals and doctors, tended to focus its energy on problematizing alcohol to the bourgeoisie through their bulletin, Tempérance. Other groups soon followed, including the distinctively Protestant French Blue Cross (est. 1883), following in the footsteps of its Swiss sister organization (est. 1877). The Federation of the White Cross, the Blue Cross’s Catholic counterpart, was finally formed at the National Anti-alcohol Congress of 1903.49
Doctor Maurice Legrain, whose name has become central to the legacy of absinthe and anti-alcohol legislation in France, organized the Société contre l’usage des boissons spiritueuses in 1894, which was later renamed the Société française antialcoolique (or the French Alcohol Union) in 1896.50 Maurice Legrain was one of Valentin Magnan’s students of psychiatry, and he would later become the chef d’asile d’ailiénés de la Seine, de Villejuif, and de Ville-Evrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne.51 Legrain published various prohibitionist texts—like Hérédité et alcoolisme : étude psychologique et clinique sur les dégénérés buveurs et les familles d'ivrognes (a 437-page monograph published in 1889), Dégénérescence sociale et alcoolisme (1895), Un fléau social : l'alcoolisme (1896), and Les causes psychologiques de l'alcoolisme (1920)—in which he directly linked the hereditary passage of mental and social degeneration to the consumption of alcohol, describing the two factors, hereditary gene transfer and alcoholism, as a sort of vicious feedback loop that required a large-scale socio-political solution.52 His visceral belief in alcoholism’s hereditary nature and his espousal of a policy of complete interdiction of all alcohol are difficult to dissociate from his support for eugenics. Legrain even acted as a member of the French delegation of the First International Congress on Eugenics in London in 1912.53 His presence as a man of science, psychiatry, and political integrity made his political and medical message appear all the more valid and reasonable.
The reconciliation of the once-competing groups, the French Temperance Society and the French Anti-alcohol Union—the latter organization initially set up as a poor-focused counterpart to the former—to form the Ligue nationale contre l’alcoolisme had the dramatic effect of consolidating the otherwise disparate groups of the latter organization under an overarching movement, while also mobilizing the relatively inactive members of the former, who often simply paid dues and helped circulate prohibitionist literature (much of which relied on the work of Legrain and his mentor). Much has been said about these movements, and even more about the men and especially women behind them, but the ideologies of various, if consequential, political actors reveal little about the ubiquity, reification, and real political consequences of the discourse I have just described (see figure 1.1). To get at questions of the exercise of power in relation to the ideological and institutional changes of France after the Commune, we should look at how such information was enforced, mobilized, and weaponized by the knowledge- producing and law-enforcing arms of the state.
The Alcoholics of the Asylum
The archives demonstrate that the Catholic, Monarchist efforts to suppress public intoxication and the proliferation of débits de boissons, or places licensed to serve alcohol, was not only continued throughout the Third Republic, but was escalated and aggravated at various points between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the end of the first World War, especially in 1907. This year was particularly significant because it saw the passage of major reforms on the production and distribution of absinthe, wine, and other alcoholic beverages, the rise of numerous studies which linked consumption of la fée verte to increased crime rates, population decline, mental illness, and the declining French race, not to mention the violent political collision sparked by the Révolte du Midi. The prohibitionists that fought against absinthe at the turn of the century utilized statistics, oriented toward their own political ends, to directly link the urban problem of alcoholism to the other social, political, medical, and military problems of the day.
Playing off of the long history of mental illness, social exclusion of the outcast, and drunkenness in Europe, Georges Clemenceau, with the insistence of the now-unified Ligue nationale contre l’alcoolisme, carried out yet another national study, although this time, the connection between drinking and social decay was more explicit. While the connection between the population declines, criminality, and tuberculosis were already taken for granted, those which linked alcoholism to the various types of patients interned at the asiles d’ailiénés was of a different semiotic nature entirely. The argument about physical degeneration had now become entirely conflated with mental illness, perversion, and crime. Not only was the individual more likely to experience epilepsy or tuberculosis from their consumption of alcohol, but, as this study would suggest, they were likely already complicit in the transfer of alcoholic genes and, along with it, insanity, criminality, folly, infertility, and various other banes to the race.
In this survey, distributed to all of the state-sponsored asylums in the country, the Clemenceau ministry requested that all patients be registered and reported under the following categories, depending on their particular type of alcoholism: (1) simple alcoholism (including hallucinatory delirium or cases where alcohol is the exclusive cause of mental problems), (2) alcoholism complicated by degeneracies or mental debility (“or where there is alcoholism among the ascendants”), or (3) mental illness in which alcoholism is among the contributing factors.54 The supposed types of alcoholism that contributed to, aggravated, and directly caused mental illness were already known and defined: what was of interest were the figures themselves. The ministry and the groupe anti-alcoolique du Parlement sought to pinpoint the department where the aliéné became an alcoholic and the specific beverage responsible therefor. This study would be supplemented by an investigation by Magnan and Dr. Alfred Fillasier into the state of alcoholism in the Saint Anne asylum, revealing not only that the number of alcoholic insane at the asylum had increased since 1868, but “[e]ven worse, the number of insane at Saint Anne who had an alcoholic among their immediate ascendants had gone from 35 per 100 to 37 per 100 for men and from 16 per 100 to 20 per 100 for women … three-quarters of all male inmates at Saint Anne’s were either alcoholics or the descendants of alcoholics.”55
Of the 71,547 individuals evaluated, 9,444 (13.2%) fit into one of those three categories, and of that approximate quintile, 1,537 (2.1%) were classified as absinthe drinkers.56 There is perhaps good reason to believe that a significant number of former alcohol drinkers and alcoholics were interned in state asylums, especially in departments where wine and inexpensive alcohol was to be readily found, such as le Morbihan (36.3% of patients were listed as alcoholics), la Mayenne (with 35.4%), and la Somme (35.2%). To the chagrin of the Ligue, these same regions consumed an astonishingly low quantity of absinthe per person, with each department only consuming .18 L, .07 L, and .4 L of absinthe per person respectively. In contrast, les Bouches-du-Rhône and le Var départments only listed 12.2 % and 4 % of their insane as also being alcoholics (respectively). Even before Couleru pubished his 1908 response to these studies, the link between absinthe, alcoholism, and insanity was showing visible cracks.57 The difference between women and men in mental hospitals was also curious. As Barrows wrote, “[a]ccording to the Annuaire statistique, women patients in mental hospitals did outnumber men throughout the nineteenth century. Insanity at that time was divided into five categories. Men exceed women in the “alcoholic,” “paralytic,” and “cretin” categories, while women constituted most of the “simple insanity” and “dementia senilis” categories.”58 Yet women, nonetheless, made up a high percentage of patients, and their rates of alcoholism— according to the pre-established nosology of Clemenceau’s ministry—were increasing. The concern about women in asylums was of central importance to the Ordre moral and its secular legacy, both for reasons of political stability and social conformity.
Surveilling the Café
Had not drunkards existed in most European societies with access to fermentation and/or distillation processes? Were not many of these people these same people, who have been discursively demonized, essential parts of the community or key decision makers across Europe at many critical times? Furthermore, can we separate the genius of those great Bohemian artists from their supposed mental affliction (i.e. alcoholism and suicide)? Why must all conversations about their genius ultimately resolve with a qualification of their addictive, sexually- promiscuous, and altogether different (i.e. non-conforming) personalities? Where does alcoholism function in their lives, and where does it function in our interpretations of their lives? The answer must consider embodiment and the contemporary social conception of the drinker as both a figure of revolutionary change and of socially-despicable behavior. Thus, the embodied drinker must exist in a world that defines him by what is in his cup while at the same time legally defined him by his subversive, anti-social behavior (or anomie). The drunkard’s mere presence in the community, in the hereditary logic of the day, would not only harm all those with whom the drunk came into contact, but also the future generations of Frenchman afflicted by his morally-perverse actions.
Moreover, the place of women in this whole matrix of social belief (itself at the intersection of particular Judeo-Christian values, nation economic and trade considerations, pseudo-scientific discoveries, and local practices) is central to discussions of the regulation of France’s débit de boissons. Reports, amassed by the Préfecture at Besançon, relay three principle themes, which elucidate the continued perception throughout the decades of the Third Republic about the relationship between women, places of drink, and alcohol. (1) Although few in number compared to men as far as rates of alcoholism go in the early-twentieth century, women nonetheless received much of the blame for passing on and exacerbating the social problem of alcoholism in France, (2) bars and taverns were seen as particularly vulnerable places for political radicalism, both in the form of Socialist, anti-government plotting and feminist philosophizing, and (3) the presence of women in débits de boissons was particularly associated with debauchery and prostitution.
I have already discussed the first two points more broadly, and Barrows, among others, has discussed them in extensive detail. I will touch on them briefly, before arriving at my third point. The role of women, as it was enforced at the top, was natalist and domestic, and, although their presence in asylums for alcoholism and in police records for public disorder was statistically and recognizably lower than men’s, the role of Darwinian evolution—with its capacity to explain the passage of good genes as well as of potentially disastrous ones that could harm the greater population in future years—and Malthus’s notions about population stagnation/decline under scarcity led reformers to use the statistical minority as the invisible symbol of blame for the underlying socioeconomic problems that bore the visible public health issue. Following the interdiction of absinthe, any social anxiety about alcoholism in men, now ideally off at war or hard at work, was displaced onto the “seductive allure” of women in places of drink. For those crafting the prohibitionist propaganda calling for the death of absinthe, as well as those enforcing the January 23, 1873 law against public intoxication and the décret du 29 décembre 1851 sur les cafés, cabarets et débits de boissons (following the coup and ascension of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte as Emperor of France, which originally sought to limit the number of gatherings of a potentially subversive, political nature), the socially-reprehensible consequences of excessive drinking were attributed to the presence of women who involved themselves with drunken men.59 The figures below draw on such attributions, portraying absinthe as a highly- sexualized, nude, non-white woman, in contrast to the industrious male onlookers and patriotic soldiers.
Raymond Poincaré in figure 1.4 proclaiming the interdiction of absinthe while stepping on the physical-embodiment of that witch-like (fairy-like?) absinthe is not far from the crowd assembling for her incineration in figure 1.2. More than a simple symbolic illustration of the victory of the French over its addiction, such depictions of absinthe rely on the contrast between the white, male figure and the prostitute-like figure of absinthe, thereby constructing an image of what the ideal Frenchman ought to look like and do.60 Any deviation from that ideal, toward the seductive form of absinthe, could lead that once prosperous individual into a life of social isolation and non-conformity.
Rather than rushing to absinthe’s side—perhaps viewing the woman as the unfortunate victim of a problem that arose long before Pontarlier began producing la fée verte—the bourgeois male applauds her death, knowing that the existence of a being so different could endanger the population at large. She, like Gervaise in l’Assomoir, could pass on the genetic, mental, and economic political despair that drinking liquor entailed, and thus her loss would be the race’s gain. Furthermore, the poster digitized in figure 1.4 was intended to be hanged in bars across France as a reminder not only to avoid clandestine “absinthoides,” but also to avoid the excesses that were associated with the place of drink. One can see the blank ribbon on the right- hand side of the poster that reads « Les habitués de … », left incomplete for the débitant to fill in with the establishment’s name, thus diffusing the message of Temperance to the millions who found themselves inside a drinking establishment. Poincaré would be in the bar watching any Frenchman who drank too much or woman who enticed him.
One cannot help but link the physical embodiment of absinthe to alcohol’s association with prostitution, especially given the rhetorical connection (promoted even by Zola) between women’s drinking and the decline into prostitution. Alcoholism was primarily a male disease, yet the café was a diverse space and women were certainly no strangers thereto. As W. Scott Haine noted, “women were a minority but still an integral part of café life … The question of sexuality in cafés is complex because [the] poverty forced many to sell their bodies reluctantly.” 61 Women, too, who looked at this poster (again, figure 1.4) could read the message that absinthe could strip a woman of her dignity and control over her body.
The physical presence of immorality (or debauchery) was not to be ignored in this context. Sextually-transmitted skin afflictions had been widely understood to be the secular consequence of debauchery sent by God throughout the Middle Ages and in the early modern period, and this interpretation, despite any real or perceived secularization in the 1880s or after December 1905, would still have immense cultural currency. One wonders if the black marks on the woman in figure 1.5’s arm (and groin?), not to mention her skeletal face, were indicators of sexually transmitted disease on an otherwise sexual but “normal” (or white) woman’s body.
Catherine Kudlick recognized an interesting trend in public health journals during World War I: “in the domestic setting of French alcohol debates, I found that in the first two years of the war, there was a large discussion of absinthe in the press and in parliamentary debates. But once they abolished it the discussion of alcoholism just started to peter out and … interestingly enough, I found that it turned into a discussion of venereal disease. We have the same rhetoric for discussing venereal disease and for discussing alcoholism.”62 Other historians, like Mary Spongberg have noted that “[t]he idea that female bodies were in some sense polluting became an underlying theme in much of what was written about venereal disease until the end of the [twentieth] century,” adding that “[p]rostitutes were made to appear not merely as fallen women, but something less than women, … Prostitutes were not merely agents of transmission but somehow inherently diseased, if not the disease itself.”63 The regulation of the prostitute’s body, like alcoholism, was a threat to the population which required the attention of legislators, biologists, and other medical professionals, much like the recently-solved issue of alcoholism.
The association of the drinking establishment and prostitution was strengthened through the regulations of débits de boissons which were increasingly surveilled throughout the latter- half of the nineteenth centuries and especially during World War I. After the passage of the Law of April 5, 1884, municipal control over both the police and local businesses expanded the state’s surveillance and control over the débit. As an extension of this law, the commune de Valdahon, in the arrondissement de Baume-les-Dames in the Doubs département instituted a number of mesures de police concernant les débits de boissons on December 17, 1912. The preamble to the order is quite transparent with regards to its moral nature:
"Considérant que certaines maisons et notamment un grand nombre de débits de boissons sont devenus des lieux de débauche et que les femmes qui y sont employées s’y livrent à la prostitution en vue de laquelle elles sont uniquement recrutées ; Considérant qu’il est du devoir de la Municipalité de prendre des mesures préservatrices de la morale et de l’hygiène publique ; Considérant d’autre part, que les mesures prises, pour être efficaces, doivent atteindre spécialement les tenanciers des débits de boissons"[.]64
Prostitution, regardless of the number of cases of public intoxication, was certainly still of moral concern to the Mayor of the Commune, E. Colin, and the Sub-Prefect, a certain Martel. In a surprising extension of local authority, surveillance could now be used to monitor the sexual interactions of French men and women. Whether or not the exchange of money for sexual services actually ensued, these strict laws preemptively addressed the issue of prostitution in these licentious débits. I will reproduce several of its articles to illustrate the point further:
"Article premier. — Il est interdit aux aubergistes, cabaretiers, hôteliers et tous autres débitants de boissons d’employer à leur service des femmes ou des filles, à demeure ou temporairement …
Article 4. — Il est interdit aux chefs d’établissements bénéficiaires de l’autorisation prévue à l’article précédent, de laisser leur personnel s’asseoir à côté d’un consommateur ou boire avec lui.
Article 5. — Lorsqu’il sera reconnue que, dans un café, ou débit de boissons, dans une maison garnie ou tout autre lieu public, on se livre à la débauche, l’établissement sera déclaré lieu de prostitution clandestine par un arrêté municipal qui sera notifié au maitre où à la maîtresse de maison. Cet arrêté pourra prescrire la fermeture de l’établissement aussi bien que l’expulsion des filles de mauvaise vie qu’il renfermerait …
Article 10 — Les agents assermentés de la commune et la gendarmerie sont chargés de l’exécution du présent arrêté qui sera placardé dans tous les cafés et débits de boissons existants sur le territoire de la commune".65
Such laws were not merely symbolic. There is reason to believe that it was a genuine response to the locally-recognized issue of prostitution in these places. In addition to records of clandestine absinthe being served in Pontissalien débits during the war, the problem of public drunkenness and prostitution were frequently addressed by municipal officials. In 1916, the Law of 23 January 1873 against public intoxication, which could permanently disenfranchise a double-offender (later updated with elevated fines in the Law of October 1, 1917), was leveled ten times against individuals in the (then) Canton de Pierrefontaine (currently in the Canton of Valdahon, in the Arrondissement of Pontarlier). Only one individual was arrested for public intoxication on two accounts that year, leading to disenfranchisement.66 In 1920, the same law was only leveled against fifteen individuals with no cases of recidivism.67 Numerous débits were closed for making too much noise too late at night throughout the Doubs. One in Pontarlier was closed on the September 29, 1917 for alleged prostitution and debauchery, although such instances would continue to arise well after the end of the war.68
Local surveillance occurred in the Pays de l’absinthe, where municipal authorities might be more sensitive to the cause of absinthe-vending bars than in France’s urban centers. The law of interdiction, once opposed entirely by the arrondissement, could be, and were, used against the débitants of Pontarlier. “Un citoyen Français,” in a letter to the Minister of the Interior written in July 1915, denounced such operations occurring at the “Café Français” and the “Café Parisian,” where absinthe was supposedly drunk throughout the week and where soldiers frequently gambled. The municipal police, upon inspection, could find no evidence supporting the claim about soldiers’ gambling nor the supposed clandestine absinthe. The Sub-Prefect of Pontarlier, in his letter to the Prefect of the Doubs, did however note the other questionable activities occurring in a number of other cafés of Pontarlier.
At least twelve débitants were warned about allowing gambling in their establishments, and eight more about selling absinthe (perhaps the absinthoïdes described by Girod). The latter offence pushed the Tribunal Correctionnel de Pontarlier to close four débits in the town between January 1915 and June 1915. Surveillance was not simply occurring between the local authorities and débitants, it was occurring between desperate neighbors following the collapse of the local economy. The Sub-Prefect wrote: « Le commissaire de police exerce à ce sujet une surveillance constante et les contraventions qu’il a déjà relevées ont entrainé la fermeture de plusieurs établissements … J’ai invité la police et la gendarmerie à redoubler de surveillance et à relever le cas échéant, des contraventions contre les débitants qui se livreraient à la vente clandestine de l’absinthe. » It was later revealed that the « citoyen Français » was actually a disgruntled former débitant whose business was closed because he himself was selling absinthe clandestinely.69 Such instances were actually quite numerous in the region at the time.70 The interdiction of absinthe was rapid. The farms growing wormwood, hysope, green anise, and the various other ingredients used to distill the spirit were compensated for their lost profits after the burning of all of their plants in the May and June of 1915; however, as the instance of the discontented débitant demonstrated, the interdiction of absinthe likely produced a greater level of social and economic desperation and unrest in the absinthe-loving Doubs than before 191571.
After nearly a century of prohibition—or rather interdiction, as France would be hard pressed to have banned anything more than absinthe, including other highly-alcoholic beverages like brandy or cognac—the legacy of absinthe has certainly changed and generally ameliorated. The once ubiquitous discourse surrounding absinthe and interdiction centered around the issue of alcoholism, and with it, other diseases, economic peril, population decline, and political unrest. In 1997, following the end of absinthe’s prohibition, these discursive elements largely disappeared, and the focus has shifted to the psychoactive and ostensibly “poisonous” ontology of absinthe. Absinthe, once considered the poison of French society, is now viewed, like modern notions of alcoholism, as a poison to the individual. In the process of liberating discussions around and de-vilifying alcoholism, the disease has also been individualized, in contrast to the particularly eugenic nature of the discourse in France and Europe at the time of its interdiction.
The drink, instead, has internalized all of the hysterical, epileptic, psychoactive, criminal, and sexually-charged qualities once associated with the prostitute, the drinker, and the mental patient. These associations were continuously affirmed through the state’s institutions of knowledge production during the Third Republic: namely, the asylum.
This modern narrative postulates that, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, thujone somehow induces a psychedelic state among its consumers, leading them to see hallucinations (often portrayed as the sexual, non-white figure of la fée verte herself), commit debauched deeds (based on Judeo-Christians standards, despite ostensible secularization or Laïcité in 1905), and potentially prey on the innocent, especially women and children (recycling the quintessential image of Jean Lanfray’s familicide). These associations replaced the notion of “absinthism” to denote the particularistic nature of absinthe as a highly addictive substance with a less-explicit semiotic association of the beverage with psychedelic drugs. The once unique addictive capacity of absinthe has also become diluted to more generalized notions of drug addiction. The poor are still seen as the primary users, and occasionally victims, yet the socio- political issues that perpetuated real addiction problems are ignored. Are we able to separate absinthe’s association with the insanity, political dissent, mental illness, and feminine hysteria from the sentiments of anti-drug discourses, which argue that certain substances are not only temporarily intoxicating, but permanently physically and mentally debilitating? Most of the institutionally-produced and state-sponsored knowledge on these connections—that is to say, the knowledge that was elevated to the evidentiary and communitarian standards that defined “scientific” work—were produced, after all, in the same “truth-spots.”72
The relationship between women and places of alcohol consumption provides us an intriguing insight into some of the longer, less directly Christian aspects of this early-twentieth century discourse. Women were not the primary consumers of alcohol in France, as much as images like Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751) might lead us to assume. Moreover, despite the perpetual association of women with the beverage of absinthe itself and the embodied fée verte, women were far from being those seen as the most at-risk demographic for alcoholism and succumbing to the deadly “absinthism” which plagued France’s urban workforce. Nonetheless, they had the most to lose from addiction to alcohol; women threatened the social and political peace of the nation more than her intoxicated male counterpart. The popular conflation of the declining French army with the low fertility of French women raised the stakes even further. The threat of women congregating in places of drink could be as damaging as the crazed mobs that intrigued crowd psychologist Gustave Le Bon. The threat of feminism, like socialism, anarchism, and other radical movements, whose subscribers were reported to congregate throughout the nation’s cafés and cabarets, could be subversive to the sexual-political hegemony defended by white, Christian, bourgeois men during the French Third Republic.
The feminization of absinthe and the centrality of women in the debates concerning the drink—despite their relative absence from the records of the French asiles d’aliénées—should be seen above all as the means by which the French temperance movement sought to vilify absinthe and render it illegal. Bars, taverns and other places of drink, as the law of January 1873 and the measures restricting the number of women allowed in places of drink (or débits de boissons) illustrate, were highly masculine places, and the presence of women often implied prostitution.
Playing off of this expectation—which could be made physically manifest in the form of syphilitic scars and pox—such movements aimed to associate women with the seductive, immoral, unsanitary, and venereal/genetically transferable diseases that would also infect many a government officials.
In what Foucault calls the “Great Confinement,” the local and state governments collectively interned those deemed to be “without reason,” a term which broadly includes those same fools, drunkards, mad men, and hysterical women. The development of a sense of “social undesirability” was reflected in the progression from the medieval association of drunkenness with leprosy to the modern conflation of the mental degeneration experienced by alcoholic men in bars with the hysteria of the women studied in the state’s insane asylums. This once-prevalent discourse surrounding alcohol addiction, mental illness, physical difference, and the seclusion of those once deported on the “ship of fools” have had powerful consequences on the present-day discourse around “alcoholism”—a term which we should not forget is a product of its nineteenth century European scientific context, with its own particular associations and contemporary cultural referents. During the early modern period, the passive consecration of such ideas were mobilized above all to intern the physically and mentally “different”; one might understand the modern period’s obsession with “public health” and “absinthism” as a unique result of that longer genealogy of conflict between able-bodied (also read “able-minded”) rationality and drunken, foolish, feminine irrationality. Today, the discourse surrounding absinthe largely holds onto that image of the hyper-sexual, prostitute-like woman, whose allure not only intoxicates men, but leads them, if not to do immoral things thereafter, at least to become frequent customers.
Of the discursive changes brought around the turn of the twentieth century, the historical association of alcohol consumption with irrationality and difference—ultimately producing a notion of inhumanity and reinforcing the socio-political hierarchy of embodied difference—are particularly manifest in the discourses surrounding absinthe on both sides of prohibition.
Whereas the temperance movement highlighted the difference between the criminal “absinthe addict” and the industrious, family-oriented laborer, those that fought against the association of alcohol consumption with sloth, wrath, and debauchery nonetheless had to engage with such discourses to disprove myriad socially-configured statements demonizing the beverage and its consumers.
This association between absinthe and disability, both mental and physical, is a product of the institutional forms of knowledge production and their enforcement at the ground level. The isolation of the mad and foolish had the result of limiting their representation as members of the body politic or community (much like article 3 of the 1873 law), thereby restricting madness and reason to a dichotomy in which the latter encompasses all symbolic connections between physical difference and mental inferiority. Such traits would include the lesions of the leper and syphilitic scars, implying not only a physical, temporal connection between mental and physical difference (and therefore isolation), but a supernatural one as well. Alcoholics did not disappear from France after January 1915, but like leprosy, it was removed from sight. Those supposedly in the state’s asylums would stay there, and those arrested for public drunkenness would hopefully reform their ways or face the legal consequences: the stripping of their right to be represented in the Republic.
1 To gain a familiarity with this duality, one need only reference absinthe’s consistent depiction in film over the past few decades, notably in Bram Stocker’s Dracula (1992), Deceiver (1997), Moulin Rouge! (2001), From Hell (2001), and Wormwood (2017). One might be equally surprised to find its fantastic representation in a range of historical (not popular!) works written about absinthe, such as Jad Adams's Hideous Absinthe: A History of the Devil in a Bottle (2004) and Doris Lanier's book, Absinthe, the Cocaine of the Nineteenth Century: A History of the Hallucinogenic Drug and Its Effect on Artists and Writers in Europe and the United States (1995).
2 Robert L. Herbert, Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society (1988).
3 S. Barrows, R. Room, and J. Verhey, The Social History of Alcohol: Drinking and Culture in Modern Society: Proceedings of a Conference Held in Berkeley, California, January 1984 (1987), 208.
4 One interpretation would be that other countries reinterpreted French discourses, which proved to be effective by the time they were crafting their own prohibitionist legislation. While interesting to think about, this notion would entirely ignore the fact that France was following in the footsteps of many existing Northern and Central European and international bans on absinthe, as in the Congo Free State (1898), Brazil (1906), Switzerland (1908), and the Netherlands (1908), among other lighter measures by the United States, Canada (remarkably less so in Quebec), Argentina, and Germany. Furthermore, the French temperance movement, even in its more-popular, moderate branch was a fringe movement. Complete prohibition never crossed the minds of most temperance advocates, and even fewer Frenchman, although the conflict between competing temperance advocacy groups produced a great deal of contradictory and counterproductive legislation. Furthermore, one might even see the origins of a nascent dialogue on absinthe’s connection to suicide in Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Green Tea.” La thé verte in his story intimately resembles la fée verte that was being produced in France (Le Fanu was writing from Ireland), and the resulting suicide of the deranged Reverend Jennings takes on many of the same psychiatric, medical dimensions as the discussions of alcohol consumption procured by France’s most acclaimed aliénistes. Jean-Charles Sournia, A History of Alcoholism (1990), 116.
5 Cited as Grande Dictionnaire du XIXe siècle, p. 1579 in Susanna Barrows, Distorting Mirrors: Visions of the Crowd in Late Nineteenth-Century France, Yale Historical Publications 127 (1981), 61-2.
6 See Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76, ed. Mauro Bertani, Alessandro Fontana, and François Ewald, trans. David Macey, 1st ed (2003), 43-86 , for his crucial coverage of the "race war,” which, in the sense Foucault (there) and I (here) use it, originated not from the colonial encounter—as is commonly understood—but from the long legacy of real power in Europe, from Priam and the Roman Empire to Carolus Magnus, the Capetians, and, eventually, Bismarck (in 1871) and Hitler (in 1940). The “race” is commonly evoked in periods of national crisis and a threat to national sovereignty. Sometimes these identities come into contradiction and conflict, such as that struggle to separate the identity of the French from the Germanic Franks. To see how such notions have been rearticulated and mobilized at the margins of power, and how they are conversely defined by their deployment, see also Ann Laura Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (1995).
7 Joshua Cole, The Power of Large Numbers: Population, Politics, and Gender in Nineteenth- Century France (2000). See also, Theodore M. Porter, Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (1995).
8 English Translation: "Equally evocative was the scope of his first public demonstration, which Fuster will not have remembered as some burning symposium on the Tuberculosis pandemic, but as the First Anti-alcoholic Congress held in Paris in 1903. The radical vice from which swarmed, it seemed, all the others … ‘M. Cheysson read for us first a high-quality report […] where each phrase sounded the rallying call, called the union […]. And soon enough it no longer concerned this singular disaster, the enslavement to alcohol, the madness of the Green Fairy. We have been dragged further, wherever mothers sob, where the tuberculous cough, where the children have the emaciated faces of old men, in the lingering odor, everywhere that bodies expire and brains decay […] But Casimir-Perier has risen up […] He explains the connection between the problems. He demonstrates the imperative necessity of resolving them together, in common. It evokes the politics which is above politics, that of the good truce, the politics of the hands searching for each other and seeking to clasp.” Lion Murard and Patrick Zylberman, L’hygiène Dans La République: La Santé Publique En France, Ou, l’utopie Contrariée: 1870-1918 (1996), 445.
9 Gershman, Sally T., “The Temperance Movement in the Public Primary Schools of France, 1885-1914” in Barrows, Room, and Verhey, The Social History of Alcohol, 208.
10 Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement, (c1986).
11 John M. Merriman, A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, 3rd ed (2010), 806-7.
12 Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, ix.
13 In Barrows, Room, and Verhey, The Social History of Alcohol, 208-26.
14 Ibid., 226.
15 Archives Départementales (hereafter cited as AD) Doubs, I402, 1908. Or, Edmond Couleru, Au Pays de l’Absinthe: Y est-on plus criminal qu’ailleurs, ou moins sain de corps et d’esprit ? Un peu de Statistique, S. V. P. (Montbéliard: Société Anonyme d’Imprimerie Montbéliardaise, 1908).
16 English Translation: “[R]equested by the Parliamentary Commission of Hygiene charged with studying the drafted law for the prohibition of absinthe.” Archives Municpales (hereafter cited as AM) Pontarlier, 2F13, 30 January 1900.
17 AM, Pontarlier, 2F32, 5 June 1907.
18 English Translation: “I beg you to support sending with urgency the following information requested by the Parliamentary Commission of Hygiene charged with studying the drafted law for the prohibition of absinthe: the nomenclature of the dead by category (above all tuberculosis), every 5 years, from 1871 to 1905, with, if possible, the quinquennial averages for the years 1885 to 1889 and 1901 to 1905, for the Town of Pontarlier; second the total figure of annual deaths by age, for the period of 1871 to 1905; third the number of births for the Town of Pontarlier, during each of the years that elapsed from 1871 to 1905.” Ibid.
19 Delahaye, L’absinthe, 1983, 169-71, 175-88.
20 Michel Callon, “Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay,” The Sociological Review 32, no. 1_suppl (1984): 196–233; Bruno Latour, Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society, (2003), 63-100.
21 Archives Municpales (hereafter cited as AM) Pontarlier, 2F13, June 5, 1907.
22 John M. Merriman, Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree That Gripped Belle Époque Paris, (2017), 72.
23 English Translation : "[T]he offices of the Prefecture. Those contained in the tables 2, 3 and 9 were researched by the personal at the town hall of Pontarlier. M. the Director of indirect taxes provided me the consigned information in Table 1. Finally, the study relating to the criminality within the Arrondissement of Pontarlier had been completed by M. Couleru, the Public Prosecutor in Pontarlier.” AD, M 2831, 2 mai 1908, du Cabinet du Ministre à M. Le Président du Conseil, Ministre de l’Intérieur
24 English Translation: "This work, by the official authenticity of its figures and conclusions, victoriously refute the great argument of the adversaries of absinthe, and this, on the very terrain chosen by the Commission, in the homeland of the terrible product… It demonstrates for the arrondissement-type of Pontarlier, the inexactitude of the famous aphorism, repeated to satiation, like an axiom, by the innumerable petitions of the National League Against Alcoholism: Absinthe drives insane and criminal." AD, Doubs, I402, 39, 1908; also quoted in Marie-Claude Delahaye, L’absinthe: Histoire de la fée verte (1983), 139.
25 Reprinted as « Arbre généalogique mettant en parallèle l’alcoolisme et l’absinthisme. Édité en carte postale par la Ligue National Contre l’Alcoolisme. » in Delahaye, L’absinthe: Son Histoire, Collection Artemisia 3 (2001), 255. Also, labeled L’absinthe, fléau social in Delahaye, 1983, 129.
26 English Translation: “We have now passed together through two tiers of the subject and determined successively the figure for the population and that of the consummation of absinthe. This consummation has multiplied more than tenfold in 36 years. If then the aphorism of the adversaries of this liquor is precise, if, following this classic formula, “absinthe makes crazy and criminal”, if, in a word, the development of criminality steps in pair with that of consummation of absinthe, we will see, within the arrondissement producing the terrible poison, the criminality, in this same period, has equally multiplied . There has been none of this, hasten us to say. The statistics prove it, that of the great criminality to start.” AD, Doubs, I402, 1908
28 English Translation: “Considering the continual augmentation of the number of insane and the ever-greater death that alcoholic beverages assume, and in particular absinthe, in the genesis of the most violent crimes; considering the danger which makes our country run, the ever-extending diffusion of tuberculosis; considering finally that it is necessary in order to safeguard the very existence of our race, to combat by all means the extension of alcoholism; the General Council of the Vosges issued the will that the fabrication and sale of absinthe be prohibited in France; that the number of licenses for alcoholic beverages be limited and reduced; and that some energetic measures be taken in order to diminish the consummation of distilled beverages.”AD, Doubs, M2831, 29 juin 1907. This letter was demanded by M. le Secrétaire du syndicat des fabricants d’absinthe & de liquers de Pontarlier on behalf of his union. He, like many others, was fearful of the potential outcome of this moment of political uncertainty about alcohol.
29 Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization, 38-68.
30 Ibid., 45-6.
31 David Herlihy and Samuel Kline Cohn, The Black Death and the Transformation of the West
32 Ann G. Carmichael, Plague and the Poor in Renaissance Florence, Cambridge History of
Medicine (Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 121.
33 Ibid., 123.
34 Alison Bashford, “Beyond Quarantine Critique,” Somatosphere, Dispatches from the Pandemic, March 6, 2020, http://somatosphere.net/forumpost/beyond-quarantine-critique/.
35 Lukas Engelmann, “#COVID19: The Spectacle of Real-Time Surveillance,” Somatosphere, Dispatches from the pandemic, March 6, 2020, http://somatosphere.net/forumpost/covid19- spectacle-surveillance/.
36 Gershman, Sally T., “The Temperance Movement in the Public Primary Schools of France, 1885-1914,”(paper abstract) in Barrows, Room, and Verhey, The Social History of Alcohol, 208.
37 Cole, The Power of Large Numbers, 156.
38 John M. Merriman, Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits: The Crime Spree That Gripped Belle Époque Paris (2017), 44-5.
39 Cole, The Power of Large Numbers, 194. Originally, Bertillon, Louis-Adolphe, “De la natalité française,” Journal de la Société de statistique de Paris 18 (1877) : 200.
40 Cited in Ibid., 195. Originally, Piot, Edme, La Question de la dépopulation en France (1900), 14.
41 Barrows, Susanna, “‘Parliaments of the People’: The Political Culture of Cafés in the Early Third Republic, Susanna Barrows and Robin Room, eds., Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History (1991), 89.
42 English Translation: "1. to vote and be elected; 2. of eligibility; 3. to be called upon or named for jury duty or other public functions or for employment in the administration, or to carry out these functions or positions; 4. to carry any arms for two years, starting from the date when the conviction becomes final." Archives Nationales de France, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, BB/18/2570/1, 23 janvier 1873.
43 Merriman, Ballad of the Anarchist Bandits, 248.
44 Dr. R. Benon found that 95 percent of his patients were “potential” criminals. 51 percent, he wrote, were “actual” criminals. Robert A Nye, Crime, Madness and Politics in Modern France, (2014), 246-7, FN 60. The figures come from Maurice Yvernes, "L'alcoolisme et la criminalite, Journal de la Societe de statistique de Paris 49 (November 1908), 375-7.
45 Quoted on Jean-Charles Sournia, A History of Alcoholism (1990), 110.
46 Susanna Barrows, “After the Commune: Alcoholism, Temperance, and Literature in the Early Third Republic,” in Consciousness and Class Experience in Nineteenth-Century Europe, ed. John M. Merriman (1979), 208-9.
47 Quoted in Ibid., 209. Originally, Dr. A. Brière de Boismont, « De la proposition toujours croissante de l’aliénation mentale sous l’influence de l’alcool, » Bulletin de l’association française contre l’abus du tabac et des boissons alcooliques 4, no. 1 (1872):18.
48 Barrows, ed. Merriman (1979), 208, 216. In 1875, the organization was renamed the Société patriotique et international de temperance. The effort to nationalize temperance, but not the hygenic fermented beverages—especially wine, which had not yet seen the worst of the Phylloxera epidemic (something of threat from the inside itself), which reached its peak in the 1880s and 90s.
49 Sournia, A History of Alcoholism, 116-7.
51 William H Schneider, Colin Jones, and Charles Rosenberg, "Degeneration and regeneration", Quality and Quantity, (2010), 11-54.
52 To see this cycle of addiction in action, one need only read Emil Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series, particularly L’Assomoir and Germinal. Coupeau’s eventual internment at Sainte-Anne after years of liquor drinking is followed by the disabled (from her own parents’ alcoholism) Gervaise’s decline into prostitution, but not before passing on her alcoholic genes to her children, who would also become violent alcoholics, prostitutes, and mentally ill. In fact, in a letter to Denis Poulot, Zola wrote “I am astounded that Doctor Magnan has not sued me for having taken so many passages from his fine book, De l’Alcoolisme.“ Quoted in Barrows, Distorting Mirrors, 70, FN 66. Barrows, “After the Commune: Alcoholism, Temperance, and Literature in the Early Third Republic,” 212-6.
53 William H Schneider, Colin Jones, and Charles Rosenberg., 86.
54 Reprinted in part in Robert A Nye, Crime, Madness and Politics in Modern France: The Medical Concept of National Decline. (2014), 246, FN 58; the circular was also reprinted in Annales médico-psychologiques, March 1907, 345-6.
55 Ibid, 247, FN 60; Originally published in the “L’alcool et la folie à St. Anne,” Archives d’antrhopologie criminelle 28 (1913), 159-60. Dr. Alfred Fillasier also published in 1910 a medical treatise called Mental Degeneracy with Alcoholism, Melancolie, Tendances au Suicide a L’Homicide sous L’Empire d’Idees Delirantes (Paris: O. Doin et Fils, 1910), cited in Amanda Lancaster, “Alcoholics, Lesbians, and Radicals: Depicting Deviancy in Fin-De-Siècle Franceand the Creation of a Deviant Femininity” (2015), 33-4 . Lancaster also notes that Fillasier’s case studies which record women’s family histories—both ascendant and descendant—to warn against the passage of mental and physical illness, especially those which pushed one of his female patients to suicidal and infanticidal tendencies.
56 Delahaye, L’absinthe, 1983, 135.
58 Barrows, Distorting Mirrors, 58-9.
59 Barrows, “‘Parliaments of the People,’” Barrows and Room, Drinking, 92-3.
60 One wonders how the dynamics of consumption and social stigmatization played out in the colonies, since much of the imagery used in figure 1.2, with the non-white woman being tied up and gazed at by the white male onlooker. She is also physically tied up, strikingly similarly to the depictions of women in Algerian harems: tied up and vulnerable, seductive yet repulsive, alluring yet diseased and different. See Judith Surkis, Sex, Law, and Sovereignty in French Algeria, 1830-1930, (2019).
61 “Drink, Sociability, and Class: France, 1789-1945,” in Mack P. Holt, ed., Alcohol: A Social and Cultural History, English ed (Oxford ; New York: Berg, 2006), 135.
62 Kudlick in Barrows, Room, and Verhey, The Social History of Alcohol, 217.
63 Mary Spongberg, Feminizing Venereal Disease: The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth- Century Medical Discourse (1997), 44-5.
64 English Translation: “Considering that certain dwellings[,] and notably a great number of drinking establishments, have become sites of debauchery and that the women employed there have engaged in prostitution[,] for which purpose they have been uniquely recruited; considering that it is the duty of the Municipality to take public measures for the preservation of morale and hygiene; considering on the other hand, that the measures taken, in order to be effective, must especially extend to the managers of these drinking establishments[.]”AD, Doubs, M 1244, 17 décembre 1912; transmitted to the Préfet du Doubs on 23 juillet 1913.
65 English Translation:
“First Article — It is prohibited for innkeepers, cabaret-keepers, hoteliers and all other dealers of alcoholic beverages to employ for their services any women or girls, to reside or temporarily … Article 4 — It is prohibited for the heads of profiting establishments to authorize intentionally the previous article, to allow their personnel to sit next to a drinker or drink with him.
Article 5 — When it is recognized that, within a café, or drinking establishment, in a furnished inn or any other public space, one indulges in debauchery, the establishment will be declared a place of clandestine prostitution through a municipal ordinance which will notify the master or mistress of the business. This ordinance will prescribe the closure of the establishment as well as the expulsion of the women of ill-repute that it kept…
Article 10 — The sworn agents of the commune and the gendarmerie will be charged with the execution of the present ordinance which will be plastered in all of the cafés and drinking establishments existing across the territory of the commune.” AD, M 1244, 17 décembre 1912 (Ibid.).
66 AD, Doubs, 4U/21/213.
67 AD, Doubs, 4U/26/216.
68 AD, Doubs, M 1244.
69 English Translation: "The police commissioner pursued, on this subject, a constant surveillance, and the infringements that he already noted have brought about the closure of numerous establishments … I invited the police and the gendarmerie to redouble their surveillance and mobilize when necessary for violations against the licensees who engage in the clandestine sale of absinthe." AD, Doubs, M 1244, Correspondances (Affaires diverses), 29 juillet 1915.
70 AD, Doubs, M 2831.
71 AM, Pontarlier, 2F13 and 2F32.
72 Thomas F. Gieryn, Truth-Spots: How Places Make People Believe (2018); Thomas F. Gieryn, “Boundary-Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists,” American Sociological Review (1983): 781–95.
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