Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason
- Henderson, Schuyler
- Date of entry: Oct-03-2005
- Last revised: Nov-28-2006
A severe synopsis of Foucault's first major work might show how Foucault charts the journey of the mad from liberty and discourse to confinement and silence and how this is signposted by the exercise of power. He starts in the epoch when madness was an "undifferentiated experience" (ix), a time when the mad roamed the countryside in "an easy wandering existence" (8); Foucault shows the historical and cultural developments that lead to "that other form of madness, by which men, in an act of sovereign reason, confine their neighbors" (ix), challenging the optimism of William Tuke and Phillipe Pinel's "liberation" of the mad and problematizing the genesis of psychiatry, a "monologue of reason about madness" (xi).
Central to this is the notion of confinement as a meaningful exercise. Foucault's history explains how the mad came first to be confined; how they became identified as confined due to moral and economic factors that determined those who ought to be confined; how they became perceived as dangerous through their confinement, partly by way of atavistic identification with the lepers whose place they had come to occupy; how they were "liberated" by Pinel and Tuke, but in their liberation remained confined, both physically in asylums and in the designation of being mad; and how this confinement subsequently became enacted in the figure of the psychiatrist, whose practice is "a certain moral tactic contemporary with the end of the eighteenth century, preserved in the rites of the asylum life, and overlaid by the myths of positivism." Science and medicine, notably, come in at the later stages, as practices "elaborated once this division" between the mad and the sane has been made (ix).