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.
In 1532, the Parliament of Paris had decided to arrest all beggars and force them to work in the city sewers, chained upin pairs. The crisis quickly worsened, as on 23 March 1534, an order was given to expel ‘poor scholars and indigents’ from the city, and the singing of hymns before sacred images in the streets was forbidden. The wars of religion swelled the ranks of these indigents, where peasants thrown off their land met deserters and redundant soldiers, poor students, the sick and the unemployed. When Henri IV besieged Paris, the city had a population of less than 100,000, including more than 30,000 beggars. The new century brought an economic upturn, and it was decided to reintegrate forcibly all the unemployed who had still to find their place in society. A parliamentary act of 1606 decreed that in Paris all beggars were to be whipped in a public place, branded on the shoulder, and then thrown out of the city with their heads shaved. The following year another act created companies of archers to guard the gates of the city and refuse entry to any of the poor who tried to return. The coming of the Thirty Years War cancelled the effects of the economic upturn, and the problem of begging and idleness continued until the middle of the century, as the high taxes levied on manufacturers put a brake on prosperity and created unemployment. These were the times of the great riots in Paris (1621), Lyon (1652) and Rouen (1639). The appearance of new economic structures also led to great disorganisation in the world of the workers, as factories became bigger and more widespread, and brotherhoods and guilds saw their powers and rights dwindle. New General Regulations removed the right of assembly for all associations, leagues and groups of workers. In some professions, these guilds managed to reform, only to be harried again by institutional pressure. The parliaments showed a measure of leniency, the Normandy parliament for example refusing to judge rioters in Rouen.Perhaps for that reason the Church intervened, ruling that secret organisations of workers had the same status as witches’ covens. A Sorbonne decree of 1655 proclaimed that to join the ranks of these orders was equivalent to sacrilege or mortal sin. (p.63)
KeywordsFoucault, Madness, Civilization, Foucauldian, Postmodern, Poststructuralism
ThemesHistory of Madness
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