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

To our eyes, the population designated to fill the space long left empty by lepers seems a strange amalgam, but  what  appears  to  us  as  a  confused  sensibility  was  evidently  a  clearly articulated perception to the mind of the classical age. And it is this mode of  perception  that  needs  to  be  addressed  for  any  understanding  of  the sensibility to madness of the period we often term the age of Reason. For that act of  drawing  a  line  around  a  space  of  confinement,  of  giving  it  a special power of segregation and assigning madness a new land, however coherent and willful it may appear at first glance, is anything but simple. This complex unity brings together a new sensibility to poverty and the duty  to  relieve  it,  new  forms  of  reaction  to  the  economic  problems  of unemployment and idleness, a new work ethic, and the dream of a city where  moral  obligations  go  hand  in  hand  with  civic  duties,  all  held together  by  the  authoritarian  forms  of  constraint.   (p.54)


Foucault, Madness, Civilization, Foucauldian, Postmodern, Poststructuralism


History of Madness

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