Patience, sagacity, tolerance, veracity, perseverance, loyalty—all the qualities, in other words, that defined madness

From Machado de Assis’ The Alienist:

Back and forth he went, the great alienist, from one end to the other of his vast library, lost in meditation, oblivious to everything except the daunting intellectual problem of cerebral pathology. Suddenly, he stopped. Standing at a window, with his left elbow in his open right hand and his chin on his closed left hand, he asked himself:

“Were they really insane? And did I really cure them? Or …”

And digging deeper, he concluded that he really could not claim to have added anything to his patients’ already existing mental faculties. The apparent cures had simply revealed an underlying mental imbalance that was present all along—latent, perhaps, but present.

This conclusion produced in the spirit of the illustrious alienist two contrary reactions: gratification and discouragement. He felt gratified that, after such arduous labors and prolix investigations, he could at long last affirm the following truth: Nobody was crazy in Itaguaí, nobody at all. But no sooner had this idea refreshed his soul, than another sprang forth to discourage him. The second idea was doubt. Was it possible that Itaguaí possessed not a single perfectly balanced mind? Must not such a conclusion be, ipso facto, erroneous? And did it not, therefore, invalidate all his theories and destroy the majestic scientific edifice that he had so patiently erected?

According to the old chroniclers of Itaguaí, the affliction experienced by the egregious Simão Bacamarte at that moment figures among the most awesome spiritual tempests in the annals of mankind. Tempests terrify only the weak, however. The strong confront the thunder and do not tremble, but only grow stronger. After twenty minutes, a gentle light illuminated the face of the alienist.

“Yes, it must be that,” he thought.

And “that” was this. Simão Bacamarte had found all the characteristics of a perfect mental and moral equilibrium within himself. Patience, sagacity, tolerance, veracity, perseverance, loyalty—all the qualities, in other words, that defined madness. He had reservations about this conclusion, too, of course, and almost discarded it as illusory. Prudent man that he was, however, he assembled a jury of his friends and asked for a frank opinion. Their verdict was affirmative.

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