Doctors or poisoners?

«A mais baixa das medicinas trata a doença física; a medicina mediana nutre a natureza original do ser; o mais alto tipo de medicina ajuda o homem a cumprir o seu destino».  

– Sheng Nong Ben Cao Jing, circa séc. II-I a.C.



One of Gilles Deleuze’s first articles, published in 1946, was an introduction to a new French edition of an arcane work of philosophy bearing the title “Mathesis: or Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge”, by one Dr Johann Malfatti de Montereggio. (1)

Deleuze was twenty-one when he published his introduction to the French edition of Malfatti’s Mathesis, which was the first new edition for a hundred years. ‘Mathesis, Science and Philosophy’ is one of a group of five texts he published in the period 1945-7, and which he subsequently repudiated and omitted from French bibliographies of his work (2).

In the previous French edition of Malfatti’s work (published in 1849), the entire book had been given the abbreviated title of what is in fact the first of its five essays, “La Mathèse”.

The edition to which Deleuze adds his introduction in 1946 is a revised translation of this volume (3). The original book had first been published in Leipzig in 1845 as “Studien über Anarchie und Hierarchie des Wissens, mit besonderer Beziehung auf die Medicin” [Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge, with special reference to Medicine]. The titles and topics of the five separate but interconnected studies are enough to show that we are dealing with a rather curious volume:

1. ‘Mathesis as Hieroglyph or Symbolism of the Triple Life of the Universe, or the Mystical Organon of the Ancient Indians’ is a detailed account of the principles of esoteric numerology.

2. ‘Only in the Process, Not in the Product’ is a development of Schellingian Naturphilosophie, with frequent reference to alchemy.

3. ‘On the Architectonic of the Human Organism, Or the Triple Life in the Egg and the Triple Egg in Life’ is an application of a nature-philosophical notion of embryogenesis to the whole of human life.

4. ‘On Rhythm and Type, Consensus and Antagonism in General, and Particularly in Man’ is an analysis of periodicity in physiology.

5. ‘On the Double Sex in General and on Human Sex in Particular’, is an analysis of human sexuality from the perspective of the esoteric notion of the hermaphrodite. (…)

The new edition of Anarchy and Hierarchy for which Deleuze wrote the introduction was issued in a limited edition by a small publishing house, ‘Griffon d’Or’, which published books mostly on occult themes in the immediate aftermath of the war, including a number of books on Martinism. The unnamed editors revised the 1849 translation, reproducing the exceedingly strange illustrations of Indian divinities and hermaphrodites that Malfatti had included in the German version. (6)

Given that Malfatti’s name does not appear ever again in Deleuze’s writings, we could be forgiven for thinking that Deleuze’s introduction to Malfatti’s Mathesis is merely a youthful dalliance with occultism. But occult themes continue to run throughout Deleuze’s work: not only does the term ‘mathesis’ appear at crucial points of Difference and Repetition, along with a weird emphasis on the esoteric use of the mathematical calculus, but his interest in somnambulism, the notion of the world as an egg, the theory of the second birth and the recurring image of the hermaphrodite all refer back to ideas found in Malfatti’s book. (…)

In 1660 the bishop of Vigenavo, Juan Caramuel, wrote a Mathesis audax, in which he declared that ‘there are numerous questions in the philosophy of the divine which can not be understood without mathesis’ (cited in Alexandrian 1983: 112).

Frances A. Yates, the scholar of the Hermetic tradition, has brought to light a tradition of ‘mathesis’ that first fully emerges in European thought in the work of Ramon Lull, but which has influences further back in Arabic alchemy and the Hermetic writings of 3rd century Alexandria. Yates’s aim was to show that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake not because of his affirmation of Copernicanism, but because of his attempts to initiate a ‘new religion of Love, Art, Magic and Mathesis’ (Yates 1966: 371; Yates 1964: 354).

In his introduction, Deleuze places Malfatti in a more mainstream philosophical tradition, reminding us that, despite his mind-body dualism, Descartes too (according to Baillet’s biography) dreamed of a mathesis universalis.

But he could have cited other earlier and later philosophical sources with more overt connections with hermetic esotericism, such as Leibniz or Novalis (both important to his work). Leibniz searched for an arithmetica universalis or scientia generalis, which would allow one to deal with all possible permutations and combinations in all disciplines. Novalis in turn took up the project of an arithmetica universalis (III, 23-25; Dyck 1959: 22). (…)

Deleuze cites Malfatti’s claim that ‘mathesis shall be for man in his relations with the infinite, what locomotion is for space’ (“Mathèse, science et la philosophie”). (…)



Anarchy and Hierarchy exerted a significant influence in a more subterranean milieu of modern culture. (…)

Malfatti’s influence is found most explicitly in the work of one of the leaders of the esoteric movement of Martinism, Gérard Encausse, otherwise known as ‘Papus’ (see Reggio 2003). Papus appended a detailed analysis of Malfatti’s Mathesis to his 1894 medical dissertation L’Anatomie philosophique et ses divisions, and in his ensuing occult works he continued to refer to Malfatti at crucial points. (4) 

Martinism was one of the main currents of occultism in the nineteenth century, originating in the thought of Martinès de Pasqually (?-1774), and his follower Louis Claude Saint-Martin (1743-1803). The former, a Spanish or Portuguese Jew, had inaugurated a number of secret societies in France devoted to theurgic ritual, while his follower Saint-Martin was the author of mystical tracts (including one entitled L’Homme du désir) which gave primacy to the mystical task of interior transformation over ritual (Harvey 2005). By the end of the 19th century, a number of Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Illuminati and theosophists inhabited Paris and assembled to form a new movement of French Martinism, in which Papus and Stanislas de Guaita were the intellectually dominant figures. (5)

The theoretical foundations of late French Martinism were provided by Malfatti and Hoëne Wronski (also cited by Deleuze, in his main philosophical treatise, Difference and Repetition). (…)

Wronski was the author of the first exhaustive presentation of Kant’s philosophy in French (Philosophie critique découverte par Kant, 1803). He subsequently developed a post-Kantian theory of calculus and attempted to develop a cabala-influenced philosophy of the absolute (which he called ‘Messianism’) that would surpass that of Schelling and Hegel. (…)



He was born in 1775 in Italy, but in the early 1800s based himself in Vienna, becoming a physician in the German Romantic tradition, a follower of Schellingian Naturphilosophie.

He became sought-after as a physician, and became personal physician to members of Napoleon Bonaparte’s family, and to Beethoven, as well as to other figures from royalty and the nobility.

Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge was his second book, published thirty-six years after his first, an Entwurf einer Pathogenie aus der Evolution und Revolution des Lebens [Sketch of a Pathogenesis out of the Evolution and Revolution of Life] (1809). Another work on medicine followed, Neue Heilversuche (1847), and what appears to be his final work, published in 1853, was an account of Kartoffel-krankheit, with particular reference to the hermaphroditic nature of the potato (Malfatti 1853).

He died in 1859. (…)

Malfatti (…) in the last decade of the eighteenth century commenced a study of medicine under Luigi Galvani in Bologna.

Galvani had devised the famous experiment in which the limbs of frogs were electrically stimulated to produce contractions; but he had insisted that the electricity originated in the animal rather than in the metal conductors which supported it, and his opponent Volta was proved right.

Malfatti, however, remained devoted to Galvani, who is discussed and lauded in the second essay of Anarchy and Hierarchy.

In 1795 Malfatti moved to Vienna to work at the General Hospital, under Joseph Frank, who was his next major influence.

Frank was an enthusiastic follower of the medical theories of John Brown (1735-1798), whose drug-based therapy was taken up with great enthusiasm by physicians influenced by Romanticism, and in the first years of the nineteenth century, by Schelling himself. It is essential to understand a little about ‘Brunonian’ medicine if we are to understand Malfatti’s background.



  John Brown was a theologian who turned his attention to medicine after having discovered the healing properties of opium, which he used to cure his gout. He had had little medical training when he wrote the Elements of Medicine, published in 1790 in two volumes of church Latin.

His basic idea was that organisms should not be treated on the mechanical model as conduits for external excitations, but that they also have an internal excitability. What the doctor should do is evaluate the combination of degrees of internal excitability with the quantities of external stimulus received. Living beings respond to external and internal stimuli: external exciting powers include heat, wine and poisons, while internal stimuli arise from the bodily functions. Pathology can be treated as a result of overstimulation (sthenia) or understimulation (asthenia). Overstimulation leads to an exhaustion of the internal quantity of excitability, while understimulation leaves quantities of the intrinsic activity of the organism unused. ‘Health’ emerges when the appropriate quantity of stimulation is found for the patient.

One of Brown’s well-known dicta was that ‘Life is a forced state; if the exciting powers are withdrawn, death ensues as certainly as when the excitability is gone’ (Brown 1795: I, cxxvii). Since the organism necessarily depends on stimuli from the external world, the state of balance must be achieved rather than presupposed, and disease is to be treated by supporting the self-regulating power of the organism. (10)

Brown thought that most illness was caused by lack of stimulation, which could be remedied with various means, ranging from spirituous liquors, alkaloids such as ether, while ‘highest of all, as far as experiments have yet thrown light upon the subject, is opium’ (Brown 1795: I, 107-8). He specifically used liquid laudanum, also known then as the ‘wine of the Turks’.

Brown disagreed with prevailing opinion that opium was a sedative, citing its use by Turkish soldiers as a counter-example. He claimed that opium was the best treatment for gout, as well as numerous other disorders. ‘Opium is not a sedative; on the contrary, as it is the most powerful of all the agents that support life, and that restore health, and a truly blessed remedy, to the divine virtue of which the lives of so many mortals have been owing, and in future, will be owing; so it must be identified that spasms and convulsions, over which it has such great power, do not consist in increased, but diminished excitement, and that opium cures them by the same operation by which it cures any other of the diseases, depending on debility’ (Brown 1795: I, 241).

Almost a hundred years after the Western criminalisation of drugs, it is hard for us to imagine how easily available and widely consumed drugs like opium and hashish were in the nineteenth century.

For centuries, opium in particular had been in common use in Europe as a universal panacea (for instance, a census in 312 AD in Rome revealed 793 shops selling opium in the city of Rome alone; Escohotado 1996: 20).

In the nineteenth century opium was even regularly administered to children (under brand names such as Atkinson’s Infant’s Preservative, or Street’s Infant Quietness) (Kohn 1987: 54), although the practice was also condemned by some physicians.

Although the addictive properties of opium had long been known (see Lewin 1924: 27-74), and accounts such as Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater (1821) were widely read, it was not until a decade or so after the invention of morphine, during the 1830s – and then, even more decisively, after the derivation of heroin in 1874 – that opiates began to cause widespread visible death and destruction across Europe and beyond. (11)

During the first half of the nineteenth century, a large body of medical opinion (dating its lineage back to figures such as Thomas Sydenham in the seventeenth century and beyond) still held strongly to the view that opium was essential to medicine, and should be harnessed and put to more precise use for a variety of ailments, rather than legally prohibited.

Although contemporary reports of Brown’s behaviour suggest that he was in fact a total, almost maniacal, opium addict (12), the aim of the Elements of Medicine – to transform the problem of opium through the creation of a ‘science’ of dosages – would nevertheless have been granted a welcome even by many sober-minded doctors working in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century.



At the turn of the nineteenth century Brown’s work suddenly gained rapid popularity in some parts of Germany and Austria, through the efforts of Andreas Röschlaub and Adalbert Marcus, who ran the hospital in Bamberg in northern Bavaria. They developed their own Erregbarkeitstheorie (excitability theory) on Brunonian principles.

Röschlaub showed that Brunonian ‘excitability’ was different in kind to Haller’s more mechanical theory of ‘Reiz’ (irritability’), to which it bore some resemblance. The difference was that Brown posited an internal excitability which is actualised by the reception of stimuli; the response to stimuli was therefore the combined product of the stimuli and the internal excitability (Tsouyopoulos 1988: 67). Stimulation does not only come from the outside, but also triggers the powers of internal excitability. Quantitative measurements therefore had to express a proportional relationship.

The emergence of Fichte’s philosophy in 1794 provided another context for the reception of Brown’s ideas. ‘Fichte’s Wissenschaftlehre is the theory of excitability’, wrote Novalis, excitedly (Werke 3: 383). Fichte’s account of the relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘not-I’ found its biological correlate in the relationship between the organism and its environment.

Schelling too came under Brown’s influence, and saw in Brunonian medicine the domain in contemporary science which was most suitable to the development of Naturphilosophie.

In 1799, the German idealist movement in Jena had encountered a major setback when Fichte was dismissed from the university of Jena on the charge of atheism.

Schelling, who was not under attack, left Jena in solidarity with Fichte, and devoted himself for the next few years to medicine, in which he had put his hopes for the development of his version of idealist philosophy. ‘If natural scientists are all … priests of the powers of nature, still the physician guards the sacred fire at the centre’ (Werke 7, 131). His chosen medical instructor was Röschlaub in Bamberg, where he stayed before going on to Vienna, where the Brunonian movement was also gaining force (13).

Schelling’s First Outline of a System of a Philosophy of Nature (1799) was strongly influenced by Brown’s ideas:

«I have to say that Brown was the first to understand the only true and genuine principles of all theories of organic nature, insofar as he posited the ground of life in excitability. Brown was the first who had had enough sense or fortitude to propound that paradox of living phenomena, at all times understood, but never articulated. He was the first who understood that life consists neither in an absolute passivity nor in an absolute activity, that life is a product of a potency higher than the merely chemical, but without being supernatural, i.e. a phenomenon submitted to no natural laws or natural forces» (Schelling 1799: 68).

In this important 1799 system, Schelling attempts to put Brunonian medicine on a more solid Naturphilosophische basis, ‘deducing’ the concept of excitability according to transcendental principles. He also attempts to solve the problem of whether opium is a stimulant or sedative by dialectical means (ibid, 63; cf. 162).

Schelling’s own involvement with opium in this period has not been well-documented, but certain inferences can be made. It is known, for instance, that in 1800 Schelling prescribed opium to Auguste Böhmer, the 16 year-old daughter of his partner, Caroline Schlegel, who died as a result (Zeltner 1954: 36). Whether Schelling continued to use opium after this tragedy is unclear, but his novel Clara, written after the death of Caroline (1810), is full of implicit references to the hallucinatory properties of opium.

Schelling found in Brown the materials for a dynamic account of the development of the life-process. He suggested that his concept of a ‘formative drive’ operating through biological evolution was identical to Brown’s: that ‘organic formation happens only through the mediation of the process of excitability’ (Schelling 1799: 48) (14). However, he thought that Brown’s apprehension of the principle of excitability was ‘discovered more through a lucky groping than deduced in a scientific way’, and stated that Röschlaub was the only one of ‘Brown’s disciples [to] have understood the scientific seeds which lie in his principles’ (ibid, 68). Brown’s own account of the dynamic relationship between stimulation and excitability could be confusing. For instance, overstimulation resulted in the exhaustion of internal excitability, but the latter itself also needed to be supported, and the prescription of stimulants was therefore also necessary, so Brown’s argument went, for overstimulation as well as understimulation. Thus, rather than calming over-excitation through bloodletting (as was still common), one simply had to administer more opium. Schelling tried to elicit the dialectical meaning of such apparent contradictions. The poles of sthenia and asthenia as states of disease required that one explain what a ‘normal amount of excitability’ was. Schelling argued that as every individual organism is in a continual state of self-reproduction, it requires a special ‘rhythm’, in which the degrees of sensible receptivity and ‘magnetic’ activity are balanced. Disease emerges when the rhythm of self-reproduction is disturbed, and qualitative changes result in the organism (ibid 168-172; see Tsouyopoulos 1988).

Schelling’s attempt to transmute ‘Brunonian’ medicine into a system of Naturphilosophie in turn found its own enthusiastic disciples in Vienna in the early years of the new century.



From a history of the Vienna Medical School in the nineteenth century (Lesky 1965), we learn that Malfatti played a leading role in this movement.

Malfatti worked at the Vienna Medical School as an assistant under Johann Peter Frank (and his son Joseph). Lesky writes that under the Franks and Malfatti, ‘the so-called ‘stimulating’ medicines, opium, cinchona bark, camphor, wine, etc, now dominated the therapy of the Vienna clinic’, in place of the customary purgatives, laxatives and expectorants (Lesky 1965: 10). However, the new wave of Brunonian medicine soon ran into problems after it emerged that mortality rates in the Vienna General Hospital had risen as a result of its influence. Patients were frequently to be found lying drunk in their beds, after imbibing large, ‘invigorating’ doses of wine (ibid, 11). Given Brown’s fervent advocacy of opium, it is likely that Malfatti and his cohorts were also deploying large quantities of that substance.

In Anarchy and Hierarchy, Malfatti explicitly mentions the use of opium as a means of stimulating what he calls ‘artificial fire’ (Malfatti 1845: 194). (15) His deployment of alchemical ideas in the book also suggests the use of more unusual compounds (such as arsenic and mercury), but it is unlikely he was using these at the Vienna Hospital; this side of his research was something he went on to develop only later.

Despite the scandal at the hospital, Malfatti did not relinquish Romantic medicine. He became a friend of Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler (1780-1866), a follower of Schelling, whom he was stimulated to study.

The main publication by Schelling on medicine at this point was the 1799 system, with its speculative appropriation of Brunonian medicine.

In 1809 Malfatti published his first major work, Entwurf einer Pathogenie aus der Evolution und Revolution des Lebens [Sketch of Pathogenesis from the Evolution and Revolution of Life], which developed Schellingian Naturphilosophie through the more practical medical ideas of Brown and Röschlaub. Specifically, Malfatti attempts to apply the principles of Schelling and Oken within the sphere of human ontogeny. Prefaced by a long introduction in which Malfatti discusses the current state of Naturphilosophie, the aim of the work is to present a complete account of the ontogeny of the human being, from ‘The Life of the Fetus’ (Fötusleben), through childhood, youth, maturity and old age, ending in ‘Marasmus’ (wasting-away). Schelling’s ideas about the self-productive nature of the organism, along with his theory of ‘metamorphosis’, permit a determination of the internal polarities and thresholds of transformation of each stage of development. Already for Malfatti, the embryo is the primary model of self-development, with spatial divisions arising autonomously in the egg through polarisation of the liver and brain.

In The Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge, the model of the embryo becomes completely dominant, and ‘embryos’ are uncovered in the abdomen, the thoracic region, and even in the head of the developing human being.

The Sketch of Pathogenesis is more conventional, albeit within the norms of early-nineteenth century Naturphilosophie.

Malfatti is concerned to identify periodic rhythms within the body itself, for instance, the cycle of respiration, sleeping and waking, the periodic sexual impulses in male and female (on rhythm and type, cf. Malfatti 1809: xxii). Each developmental stage has its own governing polarity, and disequilibrium within this polarity is correlated with the tendency towards particular pathologies. Each age has its own particular diseases (childhood has its rickets and scrofula, youth phthisis [tuberculosis or lung disease generally], maturity has arthritis, old age scirrhus and cancer). The childhood propensity to rickets, according to Malfatti, is due to ‘the abnormally persisting direction of the two predominant polarities of head and stomach, brain and liver’ (Malfatti 1809: 58; Lesky 1965: 39).

By all accounts after the publication of his first book Malfatti went on to become highly sought-after as a physician. He was physician to the brother and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as Napoleon II, the Duke of Reichstadt. (16) He is said to have had an outstanding reputation as a doctor, and in 1815 the foreign heads of state who convened for the Congress of Vienna reputedly benefited from sessions with Malfatti (Altman 1999: 84).

The fact that Malfatti gained such success as a physician to royalty, nobility and politicians using a Brunonian system of medicine suggests that, if Schelling’s Naturphilosophische transmutation of Brunonian medicine failed to achieve acceptance in the subsequent ‘official’ history of science and medicine, it found a comfortable niche as a system of medicine for élites. Perhaps it remained a more or less ‘secret’ system of medicine, until it was discovered and developed by the French Martinists at the end of the century.

From 1809 until 1817, Malfatti was Beethoven’s doctor. The composer and the doctor enjoyed a close but turbulent relationship, and Malfatti attended the master at his death-bed.

Given Malfatti’s development of Schelling’s appropriation of Brunonianism, we can imagine Malfatti preparing an elaborate system of invigorating and intoxicating potions for Beethoven in this period (which coincides with the end of the second period in the composer’s development and the beginning of the experimental final period).

In 1814, Beethoven wrote a cantata for his doctor (Un lieto brindisi, Werke ohne Opuszahl, 103); ‘Für Elise’ was written for Malfatti’s niece, Therèse.

However, in 1816, Beethoven began to develop the peculiar illness which was to plague him until his death. There remains continuing doubt about the nature of the illness, but Gail Altman has noted that its symptoms are consistent with arsenic poisoning. Whispers about Beethoven’s condition of mind persisted throughout his lifetime, but these rumours reached a pitch in 1817, ‘when the Master showed a high degree of excitability and his behaviour and appearance deteriorated’ (Nettl 1957: 99).

In April 1817, there is a sudden breaking off of relations with Malfatti, who Beethoven then went on to denounce in a letter as a ‘sly Italian [ein pfiffiger italiener] [who] had powerful secondary motives [so starke Nebenabsichten] where I was concerned and lacked both honesty [Redlichkeit] and insight [Einsicht]’ (Letter of June 19, 1817 to Countess Erdödy; in Beethoven 1961: II, 683).

Nevertheless, Beethoven returned to Malfatti for help in 1827 during his final illness. Malfatti prescribed the ailing Beethoven a mixture of rum, tea and sugar, and Beethoven wrote ‘Miracle of miracles! … Only through Malfatti’s science shall I be saved’ (cited in Thayer 1921: 1032). However, Beethoven soon began to overindulge in the frozen punch, and died a few months later.

The possibility that Malfatti correctly saw that Beethoven’s illness was incurable and therefore tacitly licensed his overindulgence in the punch should not be ruled out, and in fact this is how Thayer presents it in his life of Beethoven (Thayer 1921: 1032). This in turn leads to the possibility that the reason for Beethoven’s break with Malfatti was a conflict over dosages; Beethoven may have been overindulging in 1816-17, which would have been linked with his change in behaviour and appearance.



In 1816, Malfatti took up Mesmer’s theory of animal magnetism in a modified Naturphilosophische version. ‘He had meanwhile become a practitioner very much in demand in Vienna … and treated patients suffering from paralysis and chronic singultus by magnetic healing but without a baquet’ (Lesky 1965: 31). (17)

In 1817 Malfatti became personal physician to the Archduchess Beatrix of Este, and was sent by the Viennese court to investigate animal magnetism in the clinic of K.C. Wolfart, a follower of Mesmer who had set up a state subsidised clinic in Berlin for the magnetic treatment of the poor (Gauld 1992: 89). In 1831, he was asked by Metternich, the Austrian prime minister, to care for his seriously ill son. In 1834, there is record of a visit to the Catholic theosophist Franz von Baader, with whom he discussed the decadence of medicine due to materialism.

Both von Baader and Malfatti saw in animal magnetism the proof of the incorrectness of materialism, but agreed that Mesmer himself had been an ‘arch-materialist’ whose therapy could only be understood properly within Schellingian pantheism (Faivre 1996: 53).

In 1837, Malfatti was honoured by the Austrian government, and became a member of the nobility (an Edler). He became the first president of the Viennese Society of Doctors (Gesellschaft der Ärzte), founded in 1837 (Schönbauer 1944: 403).

In 1845, when he was seventy years old, he published Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge. In Anarchy and Hierarchy, Malfatti recalls presenting his ideas on mathesis in 1841 in a speech at the end of his term as president of the Viennese Gesellschaft (Malfatti 1845: 7).

Despite Malfatti’s ongoing success with members of élite society, a series of his patients appear to have mysteriously died in his care. No doubt our first suspicions will be directed at the notorious Brunonian system of medicine itself. However, the truth may not be so simple.

Malfatti is suspected of being a state assassin in Gail Altman’s historical ‘whodunnit’, Fatal Links: The Curious Deaths of Beethoven and the Two Napoleons (1999). According to Altman, Malfatti poisoned Beethoven, diluting lead into the punch, dispatching both Napoleon’s sister and the Duke of Reichstadt in similar ways. Altman suggests that Malfatti was working for the Austrian government (who had interests in suppressing the Duke), and that this explains how he remained unscathed, becoming a wealthy and respected figure in the nobility, even after a series of his high-profile patients had expired (Altman 1999: 83-90, 181-205). She concludes that Malfatti is the prime suspect in ‘the crime of the nineteenth century’ (196).

One starts to feel that there something a little too perfect about that name, Malfatti, with its literal meaning of ‘ill-fashioned’, and its semantic resonances (mal fati… ‘bad deeds’?, ‘ill fated’?, or just ‘badly made’?). Who was this character? Was he one of the biggest medical buffoons in history, accidentally killing the greatest composer in the West? Was he a state assassin? Or was he in fact just an excellent Brunonian doctor, who unsuspectingly exposed the disastrous shortcomings and dangers of Brunonianism as a ‘system’ of medicine?

Let us note only that in late 2005, a sample of Beethoven’s hair showed the presence of vast quantities of lead, thus appearing to confirm the theory that he was poisoned. Beethoven forums on the Internet are currently alive with speculations about the doings of the sinister Doctor Malfatti. But the truth may be more complicated than Gail Altman makes out. Her thesis is highly speculative, and overlooks the possibility that Malfatti’s ‘poisoning’ of his clients could be the result of overzealous application of Brunonian medicine, mixed with alchemical recipes involving toxic minerals. For instance, if arsenic were detected in Beethoven’s remains, that would not necessarily mean that he was deliberately poisoned by it. Although arsenic was indeed the poison of choice at this time, it was used as an aphrodisiac and for health reasons, as well as having a long tradition of alchemical use. (18)

It seems possible that arsenic, along with other toxic substances, might have served as elixirs in Malfatti’s pharmacy, to be used in carefully regulated dosages, rather than as poisons. Whether the lead found in Beethoven’s hair can be traced back to Malfatti will be a very difficult question to answer, and is complicated by the fact that Malfatti’s medicine was by this point (1827) already highly unorthodox. (…)

In an article published in 1975 for the French Encyclopedia Universalis, ‘Schizophrenia and Society’, Deleuze made a case for the importance of psychopharmacology in the study of psychopathology. (28) (…)



In 1845, with Anarchy and Hierarchy, Malfatti at last outdoes any previous attempt at synthesising Romantic Naturphilosophie and theosophy, with results unprecedented in either medicine or in the history of religious thought.

Malfatti rejects the residual traces of Christianity in Schelling, and traces the origins of theosophical thought back to Hindu mysticism, which is the origin, he claims, of a mysterious, ecstatic technique of thinking he calls mathesis. Malfatti tells us that the ‘mother-idea’ of his later studies is ‘the unity of science’ as spelled out in ‘the mystical Organon of mathesis of the Indians’ (Malfatti 1845: xxvii).

In his opening remarks to the first study, on mathesis itself, he asserts that metaphysics and mathematics originally maintained a living unity in ancient India.

If we look hard enough, we can find in mathematics the ‘mute debris of a spiritual monument’ (ibid, 6). Mathematics did not begin as a formal science, but functioned as an essential part of an integrated system of esoteric knowledge and ecstatic practice. The numerical decad, and the forms generated within and from it, were originally related to a system of occult anatomy, in which the vital forces that rule the body were ordered hierarchically in polarities, potencies and planes.

The purpose of mathesis was to articulate bodily forces numerically, identifying their points of threshold and transformation, and relating them back to macrocosmic patterns in the evolving universe.

What Malfatti has to say about Indian mysticism is rooted in ideas from the Tantric tradition of Indian mysticism, the great sexo-cosmic system which took hold of Medieval India for several centuries before undergoing convulsion and dissolution at around the time of the flowering of the European Renaissance. (20)

Malfatti puts Schelling’s emphasis on Erzeugung [procreation] right at the centre of his system, taking the concept at both sexual and metaphysical levels, attempting to find the pathways between the two. He continually focusses on the sexual and ecstatic aspects of Indian mysticism, laying out a vast sexualised ontology, culminating (as in Baader’s system) in the ‘hermaphroditic’ consciousness of the human sexual act.

In Anarchy and Hierarchy it is as if Schelling’s final theosophy comes to completion in a hallucinatory Tantrism, in which the living body of God, in its most complete self-development, itself appears in hermaphroditic form in human sexuality, where the coming-to-divine-consciousness becomes identical to the psychosexual attainment, along Tantric lines, of spiritual ‘bisexuality’. This ‘system’, uncovered by Malfatti, is said to form the basis for all subsequent Eastern and Western esoteric thought, and now furnishes us with the long-lost key to the ultimate system of medicine.

German Romanticism had had a long-standing fascination with Indian tradition, beginning with Herder and reaching an early high point with Friedrich Schlegel’s Language and the Wisdom of the Indians (1808); Malfatti refers to Schlegel’s work as an influence. (21)

In his Philosophy of Mythology, Schelling describes the triad of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu as exemplifications of his three primary divine powers. Schelling did not give primacy to any one world religion, and thus treated the Indian trimurti as parallel to the Egyptian triad of Typhon, Osiris and Horus, and indeed the Christian trinity of God, Son and Holy Spirit. (22)

Malfatti is more reckless in suggesting that there is one universal philosophy which emanates first of all from Indian mysticism, and then repeats itself in different forms throughout the history of religion, through the Neo-Platonism of Proclus and Dionysius the Areopagite, down to Böhme and Saint-Martin.

This conviction that something eternal is repeated by various ‘initiates’ throughout history is a background assumption of Malfatti’s book, as well as of the esoteric and occult traditions in general.

The influence of Friedrich Creuzer’s idealist history of religion, Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker (1810-12) is also apparent. (23) Creuzer had claimed that there was originally one prehistoric religion, systematised by a caste of Oriental priests, who had deliberately veiled their doctrines in symbols; the cult had travelled through Egypt and arrived in Greece, where it underwent a degradation into anthropomorphism. (24) Although Malfatti refers to a number of sources apart from Creuzer he adheres to Creuzer’s hypothesis that a ‘primordial revelation’ in the Orient is at the root of all world religions.

But Malfatti’s main source for Indian religion is Niklas Müller’s Glauben, Wissen und Kunst der alten Hindus [The Beliefs, Science and Art of the Ancient Hindus] (1822). The illustrations of Hindu deities and figures which appear unchanged in Anarchy and Hierarchy are but a small selection from over a hundred remarkable engravings appended to Müller’s volume, with detailed explications.

Niklas Müller (1770-1851) worked as a curator at the municipal art gallery at Mainz, writing local histories alongside erudite works on Indian religion and Mithraism (Kucharski 1968: 2). His 1822 work on Indian philosophy, religion and art is immense and bizarre. Despite the acknowledged influence of Creuzer and Görres, his approach is original, and is structured around a highly metaphysical and detailed account of the relationships between Hindu deities, based on their place in a system of emanations. On this basis, there are lengthy discussions of cosmic sexuality (cf. Müller 1822: 299-332), including references to ‘Shakti-energy’ (323) which foreshadow Malfatti’s later sexo-cosmic ideas. The twelfth chapter deals with the theme of ‘inner Doubling’ [innern Entzweiung], rooted in the struggle of two cosmic founding principles of primal good and primal evil (ibid, 463). The fundamental idea that the human being is ‘duplex’ all the way up, from its physiology up to the hermaphroditic consciousness of sexual activity, is central in Malfatti’s book, finding its fullest exposition in the final chapter on the ‘Double Sex’ implied by hermaphroditic consciousness.

The inaugural character of Malfatti’s Anarchy and Hierarchy comes from its attempt to synthesise Indian religious ideas with contemporary ideas about somnambulism. Neither ‘history of religion’, nor ‘medicine’, Malfatti’s text stands at the origin of the attempts of nineteenth century occultism to combine ancient lore with contemporary theories of somnambulism. His guiding claim is that modern Naturphilosophie, in conjunction with contemporary theories of mesmerism, is the condition of possibility for the rediscovery of the powers of ecstatic healing first discovered in Indian occultism.

«That which, in the contemplation of life, was attained in principle through the mortification of the senses, by the abasement of the individual, has been subject in our times (although rarely with enough purity and elevation) through the means of a sort of artificial anticipation of death (animal magnetism). The same fact has long been observed in the case of fortuitous alterations of health, which have for their particular effect the concentration and momentary elevation of the somatic life of the individual. In the first case it is called artificial somnambulism, in the second case spontaneous somnambulism» (La Mathèse…, p. 5).

For Malfatti, the process of self-healing through natural and artificial somnambulism involves the liberation of the same forces deployed in the occult anatomy of Tantric mysticism. But the Indians had also had the advantage of the ‘admirable mystical Organon of mathesis’ as the means to articulate a theosophical anatomy. Contemporary nature-philosophical medicine, he argued, should therefore return to Indian tradition in order to exploit the discoveries opened up by recent research into somnambulism. For whereas conscious thought is normally determined by self-consciousness, if consciousness is relaxed through natural or artificial somnambulism, then the single-minded apprehension of psychic tendencies which are usually unconscious becomes possible, allowing in turn for the production of a higher synthesis of cognition.

Malfatti’s Anarchy and Hierarchy is an attempt to control the power of dreams, to harness what Coleridge called the ‘somniacal magic … superinduced in the active powers of the mind’ during states of artificially induced somnambulism (Coleridge 1838: III, 397). ‘What an astonishing advantage man has drawn from the night-side of his life’, remarks Malfatti (…): ‘to open up through sleep [sommeil], by means of a state of interior vigil (the vigil of sleep [la veille du sommeil]), the highest, most hidden astral region: this is what the magnetic development of clairvoyance and ecstasy demonstrates to us, in the same way as the natural life of dreams’ (La Mathèse…, p. 153). (…)



(1) Called ‘Jean’ in the French translation; sometimes also called ‘Giovanni’.

(2) The French bibliography of Deleuze’s writings published at the end of The Desert Island, a collection of early articles omits all texts published prior to 1953, apparently in accordance with wishes expressed by Deleuze prior to his death. However, an English bibliography by Timothy Murphy lists the missing articles (Murphy 1996). These writings are on quite disparate subjects. They begin with two somewhat libido-soaked musings on sexuality, centred around a pronounced cult of woman (e.g. ‘Description of a Woman’, ‘Statements and Profiles’). See Keith W. Faulkner’s translations of these articles in Angelaki 7:3 (2002) and 8:3 (2003) respectively, and his commentary on them (Faulkner 2002). The other articles are ‘From Christ to the Bourgeoisie’, published in the literary journal Espace, which combines esoteric, elitist political ideas with a dialectical account of the relationship of Christian ‘interiority’ and modern capitalist bourgeois subjectivity; and an introduction to Diderot’s La Religieuse from 1947. All these texts are extremely interesting and deserve further study; there may even be a fundamental unity to these writings as a group. But it is arguably the introduction to Malfatti’s Mathesis that is the most interesting for Deleuze scholars, for both Deleuze’s introduction and, more intriguingly, Malfatti’s own work, shed unexpected light on some of the more obscure concepts of Deleuze’s philosophy. David Reggio has posted a draft translation of Deleuze’s Malfatti piece online (see Reggio 2003).

(3) It still contains a 1849 preface by a Polish Messianist, Christian Ostrowski. See Reggio 2003.

(4)] See the philosophical chapter of Papus’s What is Occultism?, translated into English in 1913 (Papus 1900). In his article on Malfatti, David Reggio notes that another Martinist, Paul Sédir, gave lectures on Malfatti at the turn of the century to the Amities spirituelles organisation in Paris (Reggio 2003).

(5) Papus claimed to have been initiated into Martinism in 1882 by a mesmerist, Henri Delaage (1825-1882). Guaita is the more enigmatic figure, and became notorious when Joris-Karl Huysmans broadcasted allegations that Guaita had killed another French wizard (the Abbé Boullan) in a magical feud. (He denied this allegation, claiming that Boullan had died of natural causes). Guaita wrote a massive (and unfinished) attempt at a synthesis of occult philosophy, The Serpent of Genesis, based on the ideas of Jakob Böhme and Eliphas Lévi among others; the last chapter of the third volume was to be devoted to mathesis, but he died of a morphine overdose at the age of 36. Guaita also possessed a copy of the 1849 French edition of Malfatti’s Mathesis, which is described as ‘extremely curious and rare’ in the auction catalogue of his occult library (Philipon 1899: 85). David Allen Harvey’s recent survey of Martinism, Beyond Enlightenment: Occultism and Politics in Modern France (2005) gives a lucid and colourful account of the movement and its influences. The Martinists were extremely prolific for about two decades, with two journals, L’Initiation and La Voile d’Isis, and groups spreading as far afield as Italy and Russia. L’Initiation was founded in 1888 and continued until 1914. There was also an offshoot of Martinism, the Gnostic Catholic Church, which attempted to bring about a return to more Gnostic ideas about the relation of spirit to matter. For this church, the way of salvation lay through the two extremes of libertinism or asceticism. However, the popularity of these movements did not survive the first world war, which claimed the lives of many of the key players.

(6) The medievalist Marie-Madeleine Davy edited a series entitled ‘Sources and Fires’ [Sources et feux] for Griffon d’Or. Deleuze had dedicated his article ‘From Christ to the Bourgeoisie’ to her, and had attended intellectual soirées hosted by her during and after the war (also attended by Pierre Klossowski, Jacques Lacan and Jean Paulhan). In the book series directed by her are listed a book on palmistry (with a preface by Davy herself), Cyrille Wilczkowski’s Man and the Zodiac: Essay on Typological Synthesis, selections from Paracelsus, Jean Richer’s 1947 book on the esoteric significance of the works of Gérard de Nerval, Strindberg’s Inferno and, rather on its own, Lucien Goldmann’s Man, Community and the World in the Philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

(10) Brown’s ideas were also taken up in France by F. J-V. Broussais, first in his 1822 Traité de physiologie appliquée à la pathologie [Treatise on Physiology applied to Pathology], and then in his De l’irritation et de la folie [On Irritation and Insanity], published in 1828. Comte claimed that Broussais’ work contained the first formulation of the idea that ‘the phenomena of disease coincided essentially with those of health from which they differed only in terms of intensity’ (cited in Canguilhem 1943: 49). Canguilhem shows that what Comte called ‘Broussais’s principle’ in fact derives from the ideas of Brown (ibid, 56-61). French caricature of the early 1830s, incidentally, is full of satires and caricatures about the failure of Broussais’ system to combat cholera.

(11) The story of opium is a kind of historical tragedy. By the end of the nineteenth century, with the increasing industrialisation and ‘governmentalisation’ of medicine (and as a result of conflicts of interest between the state, physicians, pharmacists and apothecaries) opium had become subject to increasingly strict legal controls. Following the earlier spread of morphinism, the decisive moment in its recent history came with the synthesis of diacetylmorphine in 1874, which was first marketed in 1898 in Germany under the brand name ‘Heroin’ (derived from ‘heroisch’, heroic). Heroin entered the nervous system more quickly, creating sensations of intense pleasure, but the physical withdrawal symptoms were so marked that the drug was unusable without the high risk of addiction. The story of the rise of virulently hedonic drugs like heroin and cocaine in the early twentieth century is also the story of the loss of another age, in which drug experimentation was an integral aspect of the Romantic tendency in medicine and science. An account of the importance of drugs to Romantic thinkers in Germany has yet to be written, although it is generally known that opium was important to Schelling and Novalis. On the latter, see Neubauer 1971, and also Boon’s overview in his informative book on drug use by writers, The Road to Excess (Boon 2002: 28-31). Alethea Hayter’s classic Opium and the Romantic Imagination discusses Coleridge’s and De Quincey’s involvement with drugs in detail.

(12) Thomas Beddoes recalls that ‘before he began his lecture, he would take forty or fifty drops of laudanum in a glass of whisky; repeating the dose four or five times during the lecture. Between the effects of these stimulants and voluntary exertion, he soon waxed warm, and by degrees his imagination was exalted into phrenzy’ (cited in Lawrence 1988: 5).

(13) ‘My plan is developed this far. I have decided to go for the summer to Bamberg. Röschlaub insists that I study there privatissima, and, as you can imagine, this is just what I want’ (Werke 7: 187). Adalbert Marcus wrote to Schelling that ‘Bamberg was one of the first places where the public hospitals employed the Brown system. Now Bamberg will have the praise of applying in medical treatment that which your philosophy of nature is developing’. For these citations, see O’Meara 1982: 32-35.

(14) ‘It is just by this process of excitability that the product is elevated, becoming a product of a potency higher than the merely chemical. Therefore, in the following, we will make use of his [Brown’s] concept, as long as we are able to lead this concept back to natural causes’ (ibid).

(15) Opium is placed in a polarity with ipecacuanha (a dried root used as a purgative and emetic).

(16) Octave Aubry’s novel The King of Rome includes an episode featuring the relationship of Malfatti with the brother and sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, King Louis Bonaparte of Italy and Elisa Bacciochi. Aubry describes how colleagues viewed Malfatti as ‘much less a scientist than a man of the world. His lively chatter and the pleasant taste of his medicines had endeared him to everybody’ (Aubry 1932: 190).

(17) Mesmer put his patients in a ‘baquet’, a tub filled with ‘magnetised’ water.

(18) There even existed a curious tribe of intentional arsenic eaters who inhabited the mountain regions of Styria, Salzburg and the Tyrol in Austria (von Bibra 1855: 214). They used it to help their breathing at those altitudes, and it also had other functions in these societies, both as an aphrodisiac, and as a weight-gaining drug which also induced an attractive rosy glow in the cheeks. Bibra reports that workers in arsenic mines have healthy and florid looks once they have endured the first period in the mines (216).

(20) Malfatti does not use the word ‘Tantrism’ (from Tantra, a Sanskrit word meaning, among other things, ‘web’ ‘weave’, ‘warp’, ‘unfolding’ and ‘expansion’), but his hypersexual reading of Indian mysticism, and his emphasis on occult anatomy, suggests that it is what he had in mind. There are two forms of Tantrism, Hindu and Buddhist. Tantrism became a widely spread cult in India during the eighth to eleventh centuries CE, from which most of the Tantric texts (Tantras) date. The tantrikas believed that the Tantras were a ‘fifth Veda’, superseding the others. But there is still disagreement as to what extent the magical writings in the ancient Atharva-Veda and the hymns to Kali in the Rig-Veda contain the basic tenets expounded in the Tantric writings and culture that emerged in medieval India. Only a portion of Tantric writings explicitly deal with sexuality; the rest is concerned with magic, ritual, astrology, the construction of mandalas and the preparation of ingredients for rituals.

(21) Following Heidegger, it is now often assumed that the German Romantic mind was oriented squarely towards the Greek world as the primordial source of thought and life. But it is truer to say that it was the ancient Orient which was held to be the cradle of the idealism which was then in the ascendant in Germany. According to Ernst Benz, Schlegel was convinced that the discovery of Vedic literature would be as important for contemporary German philosophy as the rediscovery of the ancients in the Renaissance (Benz 1968: 17). Mysticism was considered to be a primordial revelation, and Indian mysticism in particular was seen by Schlegel as bearing ‘everywhere traces of divine truth’ (cited in Benz, ibid).

(22) Nevertheless, Max Müller, who translated some of the Upanishads for Schelling, recalled that ‘like Schophenhauer, [Schelling] considered the Upanishads as the original wisdom of the Indians and of mankind’ (cited in Glasenapp 1960: 29). See also A. Leslie Willson, A Mythical Image: The Ideal of India in German Romanticism (1964), and Jean W. Sedlar, India in the Mind of Germany: Schelling, Schopenhauer and their Times (1982). None of these studies refer to Malfatti, reinforcing his obscurity.

(23) Creuzer had schooled himself in Schelling’s work (Williamson 2004: 121-6), and Schelling himself was in turn to rely heavily on Creuzer’s four-volume tome in his later philosophy of mythology.

(24) ‘When dealing with almost all major myths … we must, so to speak, first orient ourselves to the Orient’ (cited in Williamson 2004: 129).

(28) ‘Pharmacology in the most general sense promises to be so extremely important for practical and theoretical research on schizophrenia. The study of the metabolism of schizophrenics opens up a vast field of research in which molecular biology has a crucial role to play. A chemistry at once intensive and experiential seems able to go beyond the traditional organic/psychic duality at least in two directions: 1) the experimental schizoid states induced through mescaline, bulbocapnine, LSD, etc; 2) the therapeutic initiative to calm the anxiety of schizophrenics, while dismantling their catatonic shell in order to jump-start the schizophrenic machines and get them running again (the use of ‘major tranquilizers’ or even LSD)’ (Deleuze 1975: 22). At the experimental level, psychoactive substances can be used to induce schizoid states, says Deleuze. The idea that hallucinogens can be psychotomimetics was advocated most influentially in the 1950s, but proponents of this view (such as Gordon Claridge) are still to be found today. Deleuze elaborates that ‘schizophrenic delirium can be grasped only at the level of this ‘I feel’ which every moment records the intensive relation’ (ibid) between stasis and excitation. At the practical level, Deleuze says, drugs such as LSD can help restore vitality and movement to schizophrenics who have plunged into a catatonic stasis. If Deleuze’s ideas in this area are to be taken as more than mere sketches of positions, then it should be asked how essential these ideas are to his own general theory of schizophrenia, and his philosophy in general. They may be aberrations or they may be intrinsic; or again, they may be merely confused. The means for pursuing and resolving such questions, however, barely exist at present.

Adapted from source


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