The Enduring Power of the Charlatan

Claus Leggewie at the LARB:

De Francesco’s book is a fascinating historical examination of the charlatan figure that remains valid. Drawing on a variety of historical sources, de Francesco traces this path through early modern Europe, dwelling on alchemists, worm doctors, magnetizers, prestidigitators, and mountebanks. Individuals making an appearance include long-forgotten gold-makers like Leopold Thurneißer and Marco Bragadino, purported revenants like the Count of St. Germain, self-styled healers like Doctor Eisenbarth and James Graham, magicians like Jacob Philadelphia, and occultists like the Count Alessandro di Cagliostro. De Francesco, who sometimes comes across like a phenomenological sociologist in the tradition of Walter Benjamin or Siegfried Kracauer rather than an art historian, manages to distill the traits and behaviors of all these historical figures to an archetype.

more here.