By the end of the Middle Ages, madness had replaced leprosy as the illness that existed on the margins of society. Sebastian Brandt’s book Stultifera Navis (Ship of Fools), from 1494, is a symbol of this process. The Ship of Fools wandered the rivers of Europe, and madmen travelled on it to some other world(s). Madness was fascinating because it was a different kind of (forbidden) knowledge related to the end of the world, and Foucault described the ship as a heterotopia: an inventive space, a reservoir of imagination. In the 18th century, when ideas based on reason became the primary source of legitimacy, madness was locked away from the rest of the world. In the so-called “great confinement” process of enlightened absolutism society created a space in which criminals, the poor and the mad were locked up and excluded, kept in a kind of total institution. In the 19th century these houses of confinement were replaced by lunatics’ asylums.


First presented at the Glossary of Common Knowledge seminar in Moderna galerija, Ljubljana.