Both the literary program of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and his personal letters dating from the year of the work's composition are suffused with the rhetoric of illness, detailing a maladie morale characterized by melancholy, nervous "exultation," black presentiments, and a malignant idee fixe.. Often mistakenly identified as a term new to the 1830s, the idee fixe has a considerably longer history, dating from the first decade of the nineteenth century when it appeared in the writings of French psychiatrists Etienne Esquirol and Jean-Etienne Georget. Both Esquirol's early writings on insanity and his seminal 1838 treatise identify mental "fixation" as the primary symptom of monomania, the most contentious and well-known mental disease of the period, and one with far-reaching implications not only for medicine but for Romantic literature, philosophy, and autobiography. Examination of the disease's early reception reveals that, well before Berlioz, the psychiatric terminology surrounding monomania had been absorbed into popular discourse. Malignant and humorous idee fixes appeared in cartoons, diaries, and newspaper articles from the 1810s onward, and in fictional works by Hoffmann, Duras, Scribe, Balzac, and others. Here, and in essays published in musical and literary journals of the period, monomania emerged as an increasingly aestheticized malady, and the idee fixe itself as a signal, not of mental debilitation, but of creative absorption and artistic inspiration. When Berlioz figured himself as a monomaniac, both in his personal writing and his symphonic program, he was responding to a discourse of "creative aberration" permeating Romantic literary and medical culture, and to a fashionable fascination with mental pathology. Berlioz was by no means the only artist of the period to diagnose himself with the symptoms of mental fixation. Musset, Janin, and Georges Sand also described themselves in monomaniacal terms in autobiographical "confessions" permeated with references to hallucination, fixation, and emotional pathology. Indeed, we can draw clear parallels between the veiled self-referentiality of the Fantastique and the autobiographical strategies of the Romantic Confession. Berlioz's "self-sounding" resonates with a host of other confessional autobiographies of the period and reflects the collapse between inspiration and insanity, between anatomy and aesthetics, underpinning early-nineteenth-century theories of genius.
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