HST287, Reading Notes, 10-21-2004

Foucault, Michel Madness and Civilization. (New york: Pantheon Book, 1965) Translated by Richard Howard.

1) Stultifera Navis

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 never "cured"
17th: madness leavse the ship and dwells among us: hospitals

2) 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)

3) The Insane

Until 17th cent: evil must be confessed, brought into the open to be dealt with
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 redeemed.

4) 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 madness?

This chapter is delerious...

5) 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)

6) 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 punish.

"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."

7) 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, liberalism.
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)

8) The New Division

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 of Europe??

9) 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 regulated, educated

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 "cure"

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 politics.
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 of collective action?

"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 generalized as...etc?

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.

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, Created/updated: 17-Oct-2004/21-Oct-2004
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