Opicinus de Canistris: Yesterday and today
By Guy Roux
Confinia Psychopathologica, Vol.1:1 (2011)
Introduction: Opicinus de Canistris (1296-1352) is a medieval priest who lived in the 14th century. He escaped from Lombardy to reach Avignon, the new see of the papacy. The first scholar who studied his works of original and excentric drawings and obscure writings, is Richard G. Salomon, appointed by the Warburg and Courtauld Institute in the nineteen twenties. In the nineteen fifties Ernst Kris considered him as a schizophrenic. Opicinus is the first maker of anthropomorphic maps of the countries around the Mediterranean, and the first psychotic cartographer and imaginative writer in the historical field of the Psychopathology of Expression. His works are an unlimited source of observations about the handing down of myths and archetypes.
Simone Weil believes that, “Many scholars, except for their own speciality, are narrow-minded and little educated, and, that if they do take an interest in anything outside their scientific work, it is very rare for them to mentally place this interest in relation with their interest in science.”
This abrupt and potentially discourteous belief can be found in a comment by Eugen Drewennann (Psycho-analysis and exegesis) about shamanism, on the occasion of which madness is already present: “This impression of madness,” he says, “that shamanist practices produced in European observers, whilst it came more from their misunderstanding than the absurdity of indigenous medicines …”
If what we fail to understand drives us to madness, then where do the graphic and plastic expression of madness leave us since madness is itself deemed to be incomprehensible?