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

In 1622 a pamphlet appeared, the Grevious  Groan  for the  Poor,  which  was  attributed  to  Dekker,  and  underlined  the  peril  the country faced, while condemning a widespread negligence:Though the number of the poor do daily increase, all things yet worketh for the worst on their behalf; [for there hath been no collection for them,no, not these seven years, in many parishes in the land, especially in thecountry towns; but] many of these parishes turneth forth their poor, yea,and their lusty labourers that will not work, [or for any misdemeanourwant work,] to beg, filch and steal for their maintenance, so that the country is pitifully pestered with them.The fear was that the country might be overrun, and as it was impossible for them to move to another country as on the continent, it was suggested that they might be ‘banished and conveyed to the New-Found Land, the East and West Indies’. In 1630, the King set up a royal commission to supervise the vigorous application of the laws concerning the poor. The same  year  he  published  a  series  of  ‘Orders  and  Directions’  that  recom-mended that all beggars and vagabonds should be pursued, as well as ‘any persons  that  live  out  of  service,  or  that  live  idly  and  will  not  work  for reasonable  wages,  or  live  to  spend  all  they  have  in  the  ale  house’.  They were to be punished in accordance with the law, and placed in houses of correction.  As  for  those  who  had  dependants,  it  was  first  of  all  to  be verified that they were in fact genuinely married, and that their children were baptised, for ‘these people live like savages, neither marry nor bury,nor  christen;  which  licentious  libertie  make  so  many  delight  to  berogues  and  wanderers’.  Despite  the  recovery  that  began  in  England  inthe  middle  of  the  century,  the  problem  had  still  not  been  solved by the time of Cromwell, as the Lord Mayor complained that a ‘Vermine of the Commonwealth doth now swarme in and about this City, and Liberties disturbing and annoying the inhabitants and passengers, by hanging on  coaches,  and  clamorously  begging  at  the  doores  of  Churches  and private Houses.’ (p.65)


Foucault, Madness, Civilization, Foucauldian, Postmodern, Poststructuralism


History of Madness

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