"Suddenly, as the century drew to a close, that great uncertainty spun on its axis, and the derision of madness took over from the seriousness of death. From the knowledge of that fatal necessity that reduces man to dust we pass to a contemptuous contemplation of the nothingness that is life itself. The fear before the absolute limit of death becomes interiorised in a continual process of ironisation. Fear was disarmed in advance, made derisory by being tamed and rendered banal, and constantly paraded in the spectacle of life. Suddenly, it was there to be discerned in the mannerisms, failings and vices of normal people. Death as the destruction of all things no longer had meaning when life was revealed to be a fatuous sequence of empty words, the hollow jingle of a jester’s cap and bells. The death’s head showed itself to be a vessel already empty, for madness was the being-already-there of death. Death’s conquered presence, sketched out in these everyday signs, showed not only that its reign had already begun, but also that its prize was a meagre one. Death unmasked the mask of life, and nothing more: to show the skull beneath the skin it had no need to remove beauty or truth, but merely to remove the plaster or the tawdry clothes. The carnival mask and the cadaver share the same fixed smile. But the laugh of madness is an anticipation of the rictus grin of death, and the fool, the harbinger of the macabre, draws death’s sting."
Michel Foucault, from History of Madness tr. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa