Madness and Civilization
|Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason|
The 1988 Vintage Books edition
Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (French: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique) is a 1964 abridged edition of French philosopher Michel Foucault's 1961 work Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique. An English translation of the complete 1961 edition, entitled History of Madness, was published in June 2006.
Foucault's first major book, it is an examination of the evolving meaning of madness in European culture, law, politics, philosophy and medicine from the Middle Ages to the end of the eighteenth century, and a critique of historical method and the idea of history. It marks a turning in Foucault's thought away from phenomenology toward structuralism: though he uses the language of phenomenology to describe an evolving experience of "the other" as mad, he attributes this evolution to the influence of specific powerful social structures.
The book developed out his earlier writing on psychology, his own psychological difficulties, and his experiences working in a mental hospital, and was written mainly between 1955 and 1959 while working in cultural-diplomatic and educational posts in Sweden (as director of a French cultural centre attached to the University of Uppsala), Germany, and Poland.
Discussion of madness
Foucault traces the evolution of the concept of madness through three phases: the Renaissance, the "Classical Age" (the later seventeenth and most of the eighteenth centuries) and the modern experience. He argues that in the Renaissance the mad were portrayed in art as possessing a kind of wisdom – a knowledge of the limits of our world – and portrayed in literature as revealing the distinction between what men are and what they pretend to be. This Renaissance art and literature depicted the mad as engaged with the reasonable while representing the mysterious forces of cosmic tragedy, but it also marked the beginning of an objective description of reason and unreason (as though seen from above) compared with the more intimate medieval descriptions from within society.
Foucault contends that in the mid-seventeenth century, in the depths of the age of reason, the rational response to the mad, who until then had been consigned to society's margins, was to separate them completely from society by confining them, along with prostitutes, vagrants, blasphemers and the like, in newly created institutions all over Europe – a process he calls "the Great Confinement."
The social forces Foucault sees driving this confinement include the need for an extrajudicial mechanism for getting rid of undesirables, and the wish to regulate unemployment and wages (the cheap labour of the workhouses applied downward pressure on the wages of free labour). The condition of these outcasts was seen as one of moral error. They were viewed as having freely chosen prostitution, vagrancy, blasphemy, unreason, etc. and the regimes of these new rational institutions were meticulous programs of punishment and reward aimed at causing them to reverse those choices.
He argues that the conceptual distinction between the mad and the rational was in a sense a product of this physical separation into confinement, that confinement made the mad conveniently available to medical doctors who began to view madness as a natural object worthy of study, and then as an illness to be cured.
For Foucault the modern experience began at the end of the eighteenth century with the creation of places devoted solely to the confinement of the mad under the supervision of medical doctors, and these new institutions were the product of a blending of two motives: the new goal of curing the mad away from their family who could not afford the necessary care at home, and the old purpose of confining undesirables for the protection of society. These distinct purposes were lost sight of, and the institution soon came to be seen as the only place where therapeutic treatment can be administered. He sees the nominally more enlightened and compassionate treatment of the mad in these new medical institutions as just as cruel and controlling as their treatment in the earlier, rational institutions had been.
...modern man no longer communicates with the madman [...] There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, gives the separation as already enacted, and expels from the memory all those imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness, could only have come into existence in such a silence.
Foucault, Preface to the 1961 edition.
From 'Michel Foucault's Phanomenologie des Krankengeistes' by Gary Gutting (1994):
The reactions of professional historians to Foucault's Histoire de la folie seem, at first reading, ambivalent, not to say polarized. There are many acknowledgements of its seminal role, beginning with Robert Mandrou's early review in Annales, characterizing it as a "beautiful book" that will be "of central importance for our understanding of the Classical period." Twenty years later, Michael MacDonald confirmed Mandrou's prophecy: "Anyone who writes about the history of insanity in early modern Europe must travel in the spreading wake of Michael Foucault's famous book, Madness and Civilization." Later endorsements have been even stronger. Jan Goldstein: "For both their empirical content and their powerful theoretical perspectives, the works of Michel Foucault occupy a special and central place in the historiography of psychiatry." Roy Porter: "Time has proved Madness and Civilization far the most penetrating work ever written on the history of madness." More specifically, Foucault has recently been heralded as a prophet of "the new cultural history." But criticism has also been widespread and often bitter.
Brazilian sociologist José Guilherme Merquior discusses Madness and Civilization in his book Foucault (1985; part of the Fontana Modern Masters series on prominent intellectuals). Merquior argues that while Foucault raises important questions about the influence of social forces on the meaning of, and responses to, deviant behavior, Madness and Civilization is nonetheless so riddled with serious errors of fact and interpretation as to be of very limited value. For example, Merquior notes that there is abundant evidence of widespread cruelty to and imprisonment of the insane during eras when Foucault contends that the mad were perceived as possessing wisdom, and that Foucault has thus selectively cited data that supports his assertions while ignoring contrary data. Madness was typically linked with sin by Christian Europeans, noted Merquior, and was therefore regarded as much less benign than Foucault tends to imply.
- Foucault M. History of Madness. Khalfa J, editor, translator & Murphy J, translator. Routledge; 2006.
- Khalfa J. in Foucault M. History of Madness. NY: Routledge; 2009. Introduction. p. xiiv–xxv.
- *a licence de psychologie (1949)
- a diplome de psycho-pathologie (1952)
- Macey, David (2004). Michel Foucault. Reaktion Books. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-86189-226-3
- Gutting, Gary, "Michel Foucault", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
- Foucault M. History of Madness. Translated by Khalfa J. NY: Routledge; 2009. Preface to the 1961 edition. p. xxvii–xxxix.
- Merquior, J.G. (1985). Foucault, Fontana Press ISBN 0-00-686226-8