The “most able Cartesian philosopher,” Jean Denis (1635–1704), undertook a series of blood transfusions in 1667 and 1668 in Paris for therapeutic purposes, especially to cure madness, using the blood of animals. A range of actors and institutions opposed the controversial experiments, and the high law court of Paris condemned the practice in 1668. This article examines the attitudes toward animals and animal blood on both sides of the transfusionist debate and the resulting insistence on the “beast within” human nature that found a renewed expression at the beginning of the Classical Age.
The Beast Within: Animals in the First Xenotransfusion Experiments in France, ca. 1667–68
PETER SAHLINS is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, where has taught early modern France and Europe since 1989. His past work focused on boundaries and identities, nationality and citizenship, and environmental history. His forthcoming book, The Year of the Animal: 1668 and the Origins of French Modernity (Zone Books) considers the unexpected appearance of animals on the French historical stage in and around 1668—in philosophy, medical practices, natural history, literary conversations, and visual culture—as a critical moment in the history of mechanism and absolutism in France.
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Peter Sahlins; The Beast Within: Animals in the First Xenotransfusion Experiments in France, ca. 1667–68. Representations 1 February 2015; 129 (1): 25–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2015.129.1.25
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