Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Emergence of Morality

In addition to the first applications of Foucault’s concept of discourse, another theme that emerges in the text that I would like to comment on is that of morality in the understanding of madness and the madman as well as the proposed “treatment” of it. This topic seems to emerge most distinctly in the chapter entitled “Doctors and Patients” in which Foucault moves from the previous chapter which more so delineates various forms of madness and their respective symptoms and into the methods in which these forms and symptoms were “treated.” In the chapter, Foucault notes the fact that madness had not always been viewed as an illness which could be treated by various means. Still, even when the concept of a “cure” first came into being, it should not be understood as being medical in nature. Rather than the kind of treatment that might be received for an illness of sorts in a hospital which would essentially “correct” a problem, madness in the Classical period was understood in terms of morality and an interconnection between the body and the soul which might be said to have developed out of theories of the passions. As such, this “cure” of the madman must be something that treats not only body but the entire individual, with the soul certainly included.

It was the development of certain ideas concerning the involvement or influence of one’s lifestyle upon one’s state of madness or lack there-of which allowed medicine to bring in certain moral positions into the nature or concept of the “cure” for madness. While preceding the Classical period, madness might have been perceived as something apart from those “normal” individuals understood to still possess their sanity, now it was seen as something of a symptom of a certain kind of lifestyle and as such, was able to be made subject to the disapproval of medicine. Perhaps most interesting is the point Foucault makes concerning the development of Psychology as its own branch of medicine as being unable to exist as we know it without the central element of morality in its initial foundation.

Foucault, Michel. "Passion and Delirium," "Aspects of Madness," "Doctors and Patients." Madness and Civilization : A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage, 1988.

The Discourse of Madness

My next Foucault reading covered chapters 4-6 titled “Passion and Delirium,” “Aspects of Madness,” and “Doctors and Patients.” Within this segment of his larger Madness and Civilization, Foucault really begins to present what becomes a central concept within much of his later work, that of “Discourse.” While the term itself may be loosely thrown around in various ways elsewhere, according to Foucault, “discourse” is essentially the conditions present within any given system, structure and/or practice or set of practices which are conducive to the possibility of certain truths to exist and be taken for granted. In other words, “discourse” might be better understood as a way of knowing, a system of knowledge, which enables (or makes possible the experience of) certain things to be understood as “true” and others as “false.”

Throughout the entire work, Foucault explores the various discursive practices concerning issues of madness and of “treatment” that later inform the conception of Psychology and Psychiatry that emerges following the Classical period. In “Passion and Delirium,” for example, he looks at various specific forms of madness as documented in the period, paying particular attention to the differing discourse structures experienced by the afflicted ones called “mad” which cause them to perceive certain unreal things as true. This is of particular interest when considering the emergence of this concept of madness in the “age of reason” which calls the madman he who is without reason when firstly his very labeling as such relies upon reason through which to establish an opposition, and secondly, as Foucault highlights in his concept of the discourse of madness, his experience of understanding certain untrue things as true is dependent upon a discourse structure which operates through an application of reason.

Foucault, Michel. "Passion and Delirium," "Aspects of Madness," "Doctors and Patients." Madness and Civilization : A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage, 1988.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Display of the Insane - Spectacle at a Distance

The majority of space in the first three chapter’s of the English translation (a much more condensed version) of Foucualt’s Madness and Civilization is taken up in focusing on the history of the figure of the madman and the concept of the “insane” as it was initially treated or referred to in past history. This was of course to be expected since the subtitle for the work reads “a History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.” Foucault begins his larger discussion of madness by first introducing the peculiar experience of Leprosy in Europe generally around the Middle Ages (though he does tend to refer to certain happenings throughout the text which may reach farther into the depths of history.)

Highlighting the disappearance of the disease as resulting from the segregation of those bodies possessing it from the larger populace as well as marking the institutions (particularly of buildings and their organization and function), Foucault might be understood as providing a kind of lens with which to understand his approach to the remaining bulk of the text and to the subject as a whole. Firstly, he makes clear that his subject is, like the lepers defined by the visual experience in reading the body as different and in need of treatment/regulation/separation, is a matter of the manner in which bodies are read, separated and “treated” by a larger institutional order serving the public. Secondly, his focus on the remaining structures left behind following the near disappearance of Leprosy on the continent suggests what is commonly understood as his approach to understanding categories such as “madness” or “reason,” the “madman” or the “man of reason” that emerge by looking at the institutions put in place to define and regulate those categories.

While there is certainly a lot of information that can be taken out of these first three chapters as Foucault moves through different periods of time, charting the changing relationship of the “madman” to the society and the state, I would like to highlight a particular moment that I found to be of interest: the act of displaying the insane. Foucault discusses this shifting social experience of the professed “madman” primarily in the third chapter entitled “the insane” where he contrasts an emerging experience of madness during the classical period as one in which “Madness became pure spectacle (69).” Where as in previous moments in time, both the lepers and the “insane” were likely to intermingle (to a certain degree- at least, that is, that they could be encountered on the street; etc) with common folk, even viewed as a testament to what was viewed at the time as God’s grace or presence, a “guardian of truth” “remind[ing] each man of his [own] truth (14)” of “the secret nature of man (21),” during the classical period, the “age of reason, ”madness was shown, but on the other side of bars; if present, it was at a distance, under the eyes of a reason that no longer felt any relation to it and that would not compromise itself by too close a resemblance (70).” This perhaps can be understood by the ways in which the bodies/minds (noting that here, according to the time period, these two are inextricable) classified as “mad” were segregated and “treated” in the same manner in which lepers had been in previous history (fittingly, the second chapter is titled “the great confinement”. Through this segregation and through activities that were conducted exclusively to classify certain bodies in such a way which explicitly denoted them as entirely separate entities from the rest of the population, including chaining and jailing as well as display made accessible to the public for a small fee, for the individual free of such classification, “Madness had become a thing to look at: no longer a monster inside oneself (70).”

Foucault, Michel. "'Stultifera Navis'," "The Great Confinement," "The Insane." Madness and Civilization : A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage, 1988.