For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

History of Madness

by Foucault, Michel (2013)


When it was first published in France in 1961 as Folie et Déraison: Histoire de la Folie à l'âge Classique, few had heard of a thirty-four year old philosopher by the name of Michel Foucault. By the time an abridged English edition was published in 1967 as Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault had shaken the intellectual world. This translation is the first English edition of the complete French texts of the first and second edition, including all prefaces and appendices, some of them unavailable in the existing French edition. History of Madness begins in the Middle Ages with vivid descriptions of the exclusion and confinement of lepers. Why, Foucault asks, when the leper houses were emptied at the end of the Middle Ages, were they turned into places of confinement for the mad? Why, within the space of several months in 1656, was one out of every hundred people in Paris confined? Shifting brilliantly from Descartes and early Enlightenment thought to the founding of the Hôpital Général in Paris and the work of early psychiatrists Philippe Pinel and Samuel Tuke, Foucault focuses throughout, not only on scientific and medical analyses of madness, but also on the philosophical and cultural values attached to the mad. He also urges us to recognize the creative and liberating forces that madness represents, brilliantly drawing on examples from Goya, Nietzsche, Van Gogh and Artaud. The History of Madness is an inspiring and classic work that challenges us to understand madness, reason and power and the forces that shape them.

Key Passage

As  we  have  seen,  the madness of the classical age is linked to the threat of bestiality – a bestiality dominated by predatory and murderous instincts. Returning madness to nature meant abandoning it to the furies of all that was counter-natural, in a reversal that was impossible to control. The cure for madness supposed are turn  to  all  that  was  immediate,  not  in  relation  to  desire  but  to  the imagination –  a  return  that  removed  from  the  lives  of  men  and  their pleasures all that was artificial, unreal and imaginary. The therapeutics of the well-considered plunge into immediacy secretly supposed a mediating wisdom that divided nature into the violent and the truthful. This was the crucial  difference  between  the  Savage  and  the  Labourer: ‘Savages  . . .  lead the  life  of  a  carnivorous  animal,  rather  than  that  of  a  reasonable  being. ’The life of a Labourer, by contrast, ‘is happier than that of a man of the world’. On the savage’s side was the immediacy of desire, undisciplined, unconstrained,  and  devoid  of  real  morality;  on  the  labourer’s  side  was unmediated pleasure, i.e. pleasure that was not vainly solicited and with-out  imaginary  excitement  and  accomplishments. (p.335)


Foucault, Madness, Civilization, Foucauldian, Postmodern, Poststructuralism, Idleness, Religious Views On Work, Punishment


History of Madness

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