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Madness and Civilization

Michel Foucault

Conclusion

The Birth of the Asylum

Important quotations

Summary

Foucault analyses Goya's Madhouse. Its language is close to the world of Pinel. Goya paints a different kind of madness in the Disparates and the Quinta del Sordo. He shows man cast into darkness, not the madman cast into prison. Goya's forms and figures are born out of nothing. Madness becomes the possibility of abolishing man and the world. It is the end and beginning of everything. Goya's madness is transmitted to Nietzsche and Artaud.

One can trace unreason through de Sade as well, from Justine to Juliette. This pastiche of Rousseau is the first phase of Sade. Desire for Sade only appears to rediscover nature; in fact man is plunge into a void that dominates nature. Through Sade and Goya, the Western world recognized the possibility of transcending its reason in violence and the recovery or tragic experience. After Sade and Goya, unreason belongs to whatever is decisive in a work of art. The work of art and madness are united on a profound level in classical experience. It is often hard to tell the difference between hallucination and inspiration. The madness of a writer is a chance to see the truth of the artwork reborn.

The frequency of modern art that comes from madness must be taken seriously. From Hoderlin and Nerval onwards, art and madness battle each other. Artaud's madness is the absence of a work of art (l'absence d'oeuvre). Van Gogh knew that his madness and his work were incompatible. Madness is an absolute break with works of art. In Nietzsche's madness the dissolution of thought is that by which his work opens into the world. This does not imply that madness is the only language common to works of art and the modern world. But it does mean that the work engages with the world through madness. The madness in which the work of art is engulfed is the space of our enterprise. Where there is no work of art there is no madness. The moment where art and madness come together is the beginning of the time when the world finds itself held accountable by the work of art and responsible before itself.

This is the new triumph of madness. The world that tried to justify itself and measure madness through psychology must justify itself before madness. The world measures itself by the works of Nietzsche, Van Gogh and Artaud. But nothing assures the world that it is justified by madness, not even psychology.

Analysis

Foucault analyzes the modern experience of unreason. He believes that the only was to do this is by looking at the work of certain writers and artists. He cites artists who express madness in their art as a way of counteracting the medical and psychiatric appropriation of madness. This is his way of showing that unreason can be expressed in the modern world, despite the various medical structures created to hide it.

Foucault does not examine the work of any artist in great depth. In fact, he uses names alone as symbols representing a certain attitude to unreason. His choice of names is perhaps explained by his interest in the work of Artaud. Artaud saw himself as part of a distinct tradition of mad writers, including those named above, and even wrote a study of the painter Van Gogh's madness. Much of this section can be related to Foucault's interest in Artaud.

Foucault suggests that madness can create art, but in the end it destroys it. Madness becomes the absence of a work of art. Foucault sees art as a way for madness to fight back against the world. Madness is measured against a moral scale by psychiatrists and psychologists, but art asks the world disturbing questions and requires answers. The very fact that it does not support the way that society represents and treats madness calls society itself into question. Art attempts to redress the balance between madness and civilization.

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