HST287, Reading Notes, 10-21-2004
Foucault, Michel Madness and
Civilization. (New york: Pantheon Book, 1965) Translated by
Foucault traces the decline of leprosy and lazar colonies, the
connections made by medieval people between water and madness, and the
practice of confining madmen to ships. He contends that, in the 15th
century, not only did the theme of the ship of fools invade literature
and iconography, but that madmen, in their ambiguity, "symbolized a
great disquiet." (p. 13) He notes a change from a representation of
death to a fascination of madness, seeing in this transition not a
break but a "torsion within the same anxiety. What is in question is
still the nothingness of existence, but this nothing ness is no
longer considered an external, final term, both threat and conclusion;
it is experienced from within as the continuous and constant form of
existence." (p. 16) Were men mad not to see the end of the world? No,
it is man's insanity that proves that the end is near.
He sees the cleavage in the way literature and art treat the image of
the madman as a representation of the cleavage in the way madmen will
be considered in western experience.
Images of Apocalyptic dreams: 14th cent: dragons held by virgins. 15th
cent: wisdom is annialated, Fury, madness
But in literature: madness is a vice
"In the domain of literary and philosophic expression, the experience
of madness in the fifteenth century generally takes the form of moral
satire. Nothing suggests those great threats of invasion that haunted
the imagination of the painters." (p. 27) Erasmus sees madness as
devine spectacle: far enough away to be safe.
16th: Cervantes, Shakespeare: madness never leads to truth, reason, is
17th: madness leavse the ship and dwells among us: hospitals
The Great Confinement
1656, France: General Hospital not formed for medical purposes but for
administrative, a manifestation of the monarchail/bureaucratic movement
to organize. This movement, to confine people based on certain
criteria, was evident all over Europe. Why did western europeans
confine and how did they determine criteria for confinement?
Who was confined? disturbers of the peace, profession-less, insane,
i.e. idle people, non-workers. This unemployed mass would be fed at the
expense of society but the price was confinement, and later, enforced
work. Work has an economic impact, but the main reason for enforced
work is bring the workers into line with the ethic that by work one
shows duty to God and society,
"The new meanings assigned to poverty, the importance given to the
obligation to work, and all the ethical values that are linked to
labor, ultimately determined the experience of madness and inflected
it's course. . .A sensibility was born which had drawn a line and laid
a cornerstone, and which chose--only to banish. . .Madness was thus
torn from that imaginery freedom which still allowed it to flourish in
the Renaissance. . .In less than half a century, it had been
sequestered. . ." (p. 64)
Until 17th cent: evil must be confessed, brought into the open to be
Post 17th: evil must be hidden, confined. Exception? lunatics should be
on display. Also, confinement takes the form of (frenzied) animal
control: chains, cages.
Unreason vs. madness: unreason should be hidden as it is evidence of
immorality. Madness should be displayed as it is evidence of animality,
the lowest man can fall before being redeemed, and the madman can be
Passion and Delirium
A homeostatic model of the body and of the soul leads to two things:
causality and other
"The ultimate language of madness is that of reason" (p. 95)
Discourse of madness: the passions speak, convince, and are given voice
by the madman (fixation, self is convinced, self explains to others,
thus deemed mad)
"Delirium is the dream of waking persons" those who do not leave the
chaotic but logical world of dreams when they awake/
Madness is the acting out of the beliefs held by the madman. That's a
pretty monolithic view of all madness, as well as a proactve (?) view.
Madmen are not victims in this view but almost creators of their own
This chapter is delerious...
Aspects of Madness
Melancholia moves from humors to a lesser form of delirium and
animality, to a locus in the brain. The humor argument doesn't go
away--it does get more complex."\
"At the end of the 18th century, all forms of madness without delirium,
but characterized by inertia, by despair, by a sort of dull stupor,
would be readily classified as melanchlia." (p. 124)
The manic, opposite of melancholic, becomes through 18th cent. seen as
the vibrating string under tension. And dissection adds a physiological
dimension to the discussion.
By the end of the 18th cent hysteria and hypochodria appear on the
medical charts as mental disease.
Migrating womb? Brain effecting uterus/nerves. Sure.
Hysteria is only possible when the body 's interior landscape is not
dense. hence, hardwork: no hysteria. Lazy life: hysteria.
"As long as vapors were convulsions or strange sympathetic
communications through the body, even when they led to fainting and
loss of consciousness, they were not madness. But once the mind becomes
blind through the very excess of sensibility--then madness aooears. But
on the other hand, such an identification gives madness a new content
of guilt, of moral sanction, of just punishment which was not at all a
part of the classical experience. It burdens unreason with all these
new values: instead of making blindness the condition of possibility
for all the manifestations of madness, it describes blindness, the
blindness of madness, as the
psychological effect of a moral fault." (p. 158)
Doctors and Patients
Iron fortifies, bleeding thins the melancholic blood, bitters purify:
vinegar, quinine, soap; immersion provides balance in humors and
temperature as well as purifying; controlled movement regulates the
humors and mind.
The rotatory chair shows the progression of treatment: movement to
restore the individual to the truth of the real world - movement to
restore the organisms internal workings - movement used to threaten and
"To emply passion against dementia is merely to attack the unity of
soul and body at its most rigorous point. . .To cure madness by passion
implies that one accepts the reciprocal symbolism of body and soul."
Fear is the passion advisable to arouse in madmen in the 18th cent.
Forms of treatment: awakening (fast and slow, mental and emotional);
imposition of reason through theatrical reproduction (speak the same
language as the deluded and convince away his delusions: send an
"angel" to cure the melancholic who believes he is accompanied by a
demon); return to the immediate (the work cure, the nature cure)
The nature/work cure leads Foucault to the conclusion that such a view
of madness must necessarily be a "moral perception of madness." hunh???
At any rate he sees two differen streams: madness as organic disease,
and madness as the discourse of unreason. They lead to pathological and
psychological models of mental disease. Freud brings back the
"possibility of a dialog with unreason."
The Great Fear
Mid-18th cent: belief that confinement centers were contaminating
community, resulting in reform movement.
madness and liberty: English suicide, English wealth, softness,
madness, religion, time: too much piety - melancholia
madness, civilization and sensibility: "my brain hurts" too much
sensibility, too much study "infirmities of wisdom
Getting too far from reality (nature, work) and you are liable to
fall into melancholia (and don't read too much either: girls/novels)
19th cent: separating the "innocence of unreason from the guit if
crime" (p. 222)
18th cent: I may be a criminal but I'm not so bad as to deserve to be
locked up with the insane.
19th cent.: I'm only a poor insane person. Don't lock me up with
criminals and their vices.
The division between criminals, poor, and mad. But the example is all
out of the French Revolution. Is that suficient reflection of the rest
The Birth of the Asylum
Tuke: going to the country: Liberation
actually means segregation farther away.
19th cent: self-restraint, being watched, watching yourself, "The
science of mental disease, as it would develop in the asylum, would
always be only the order of observation and classification." (p. 250)
(So, we have the prison panopticon model again, this time with
watchers--the authorities, holders of reason and language-- and
self-watchers omnipresent, not just from tower to cells)
Authority means that madmen are now minors--children--must be
Pinel: "uniform domain of legislation" all organized by
- silence: chains struck off, but silent treatment
- recognition by mirror: different than humoring: make
patient see hiw own absurdity
- perpetual judgement: repression, punishment in the name of
The medical personage becomes central figure in asylum not as medical
but as wise man. Culminates in Freud.
White, Stephen K. "Foucault's Challenge to Critical Theory" The American Political Science Review
Vol. 80, No 2 (June 1986, 419-432.
Power, subjectivity, otherness, and modernity as they relate to
Problem with subjectivity: our conceptions are already an effect of
power so how to study them objectively.
Textualism: meaning imposed, not internal/absolute. Foucault; look for
interpretations, not developments. So we are not looking for cause and
effect but mutually developing practices.
Problems with critical theory: "must always be open to the possibility
that its own concepts make it blind to some dimensions of power and
self-deception." (p. 424)
(p. 423) Foucault's dilemma: "thou shalt not privilege any
interpretation." But if he sees new social movements as authentic
resistance to modern forms of power, thus endorsing them, is he
not 'violating his own basic methodological canon'?
How does a dandy (Foucault's individualist work of art) become a part
"Habermas is arguing that the resources of cultural modernity are
adequate for illuminating the pathologies and unlearning that have
accompanied modernization/" (p. 425)
White is asking: "Exactly what sort of learning process is manifested
within the aesthetic dimension? And in what sense is this learning
process one which is particularly sensitive to what has been excluded,
devalued, marginalized--in short "unlearned"-- in modern life?" (p. 425)
1) "The madman's voyage is at once a rigorous division and an absolute
Passage. In one sense, it simply develops, across a half-real,
half-imaginary geography, the madman's liminal position on the horizon
of medieval concern--a position symbolized and made real at the same
time by the madman's privilege of being confined within the city gates;
his exclusion must enclose him; if he cannot and must not have another
prison than the threshold itself, he is kept at the point of passage.
He is put in the interior of the exterior, and inversely. A highly
symbolic position, which will doubtless remain his until our own day,
if we are willing to admit that what was formerly a visible fortress of
order has now become the castle of our conscience."
What a beautifully evocative passage. Foucault moves from the image of
the ship of madmen as an almost dream-like ship forever constrained
between the city and the sea, between normal and abnormal, and between
their physical present, our imaginary past, and the practices of our
present day. So what is the question? A quite practical one: what
actually is the historical evidence for ships of fools and how they
were used? Actually, that question is just a representative of the
larger question: Is Foucault building this beautiful mental edifice on
something that actually existed throughout medieval Europe? If he
isn't, does it
even matter--are his conclusions valid regardless of the historical
reality, unreality or comprehensiveness of his examples? It may not
matter to a
philosopher. I think it should matter to a historian.
2) Again with the language. In "Passion and Delirium" Foucaults builds
a complex and convoluted argument and concludes: "Confinement merely
manifested what madness, in its essence, was: a manifestation of
non-being; and by providing this manifestation, confinement thereby
suppressed it, since it restored it to its truth as nothingness. . .by
confinement, madnesss is acknowledged to be nothing." He asks if the classical
understanding of madness as nothing is the cause or result of
confinement calling these "questions whose answers refer to each other
in a perfect circularity." And concludes: "it is futile, no doubt, to
lose oneself in the endless cycle of those forms of interrogation.
Better to let classical culture formulate, in its general structure,
the experience it had of madness. . ." After reading his argument in
this chapter, with its almost delirious (?!) discursive intricacies, I
cannot help but agree. Much as I enjoyed the language of the chapter I
can't help but wonder if Foucault uses the language to explicate or to
blind (dazzle?!). Much of the work might be seen as circular. Is he
trying to articulate a single experience, albeit one that changes over
time? A "madness" instead of many people and many forms of madness? If
so, isn't this counter to what he is suppossed to be about? Or is he
just saying that madness in pre-20th century western Europe sometimes,
in some places, had certain general characteristics that can be
3) Ah-ha. Perhaps White's article is an answer to #2. It's heavy going
though. Just when I seem to have a handle on it it slips away. Perhaps
it's the language. I think White is saying that Foucault's discourse
"about action can have no other status than that of another act in the
'endlessly repeated play of domination'" but that, if Foucault actually
believes that than why should we accept Foucault's recommendations of a
"particular conception of subjectivity and resistance." Why privilege
Foucault's interpretation above any other. Habermas, on the other hand,
(or is it "modern structures of consciousness in general"--not just
Habermas?) suggests that the concept of objectivity works because, in
modern consciousness there is room for a hypothetical approach. Because
we have an aesthetic sense that is "radically decoupled from the
imperatives of society and tradition" we have a greated capacity to
step outside those traditions, and so can indeed choose between
something like Polish solidarity and the KKK.
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