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Madness and Civilization

Michel Foucault


Important Terms

Artaud  -  Antonin Artaud (1896–1948). A French actor, writer and dramatic theorist, Artaud was a drug addict and spent a large part of his life in a lunatic asylum. His most influential work, The Theater and its Double, is a collection of essays and articles about dramatic theory. Artaud's delusions and madness are a central part of his art and life. For Foucault, he represents a particular relationship between art and madness; he is part of a growing tradition of artists and writers who succumb to madness. Artaud's madness is exactly the absence of a work of art; his life was a struggle between creativity and insanity. To an extent, Artaud's name is a kind of token for Foucault; he refers to him without analyzing his work in any depth
Cervantes  -  Miguel Cervantes (1547–1616), Spanish novelist, and author of Don Quixote. Don Quixote, who travels around Spain acting out imaginary deeds of chivalry, is for Foucault a symbol of the integration of madness into Renaissance life. Together with Shakespeare, the work of Cervantes represents madness as the ultimate limit of reality.
The classical period  -  The time period from 1660 to the end of the 19th century. Madness and Civilization, like most of Foucault's works, refers mainly to this period. For Foucault, the classical period sees as the birth of many of the characteristic institutions and structures of the modern world. Madness in the classical period is confined and silenced, along with other forms of social deviance.
Cogito  -  The argument "cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am") comes from Descartes's Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. For Foucault, it represents a key shift in the conception of madness. The cogito argument begins in doubt; Descartes attempts to counter the position of extreme skepticism about the world and his own existence. He asks, "How do I know that I exist?", and wonders if he is not mad or being deceived about his own existence. The answer is essentially that, even if all other evidence is discounted, Descartes knows that he doubts his existence; and because he doubts, he must be thinking. If he is thinking, he must exist and cannot be deceiving himself. There are various problems of interpretation that affect this argument, but Foucault ignores them. What interests him is the way that Descartes reveals the self-confidence of reason in the classical period. Descartes believes he cannot be mad because he reasons; reason opposes itself absolutely to madness. Foucault's interpretation of Descartes was heavily criticized by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his "Cogito et Histoire de la folie" (Cogito and the history of madness).
Confinement  -  Confinement is a phenomenon specific to the eighteenth century, by which society creates a space in which certain social deviants, including criminals, the idle poor and the mad are locked up and excluded. Confinement began, Foucault argues, with the building of the Hopital General in 1656, and ended during the French Revolution when attitudes to madness changed. Confinement was possible because of a combination of economic and social factors; it represented far more than the construction of buildings to house lunatics.
Delirium  -  Delirium comes from the Latin word deliro, meaning to move out of the proper path. In this context it essentially means to move away from the path of reason. Foucault argues that there were two forms of delirium in the classical period. The first was a general symptom of various forms of madness; the second was a particular discourse that distorted the madman's relationship to the truth. Classical delirium is a phenomenon of language; madness becomes a sustained, untrue belief. The various "cures" developed in asylums were designed to alter delirious belief and restore sanity. See also discourse
Descartes  -  Rene Descartes, (1596–1650), French philosopher, and author of Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on Method. The relationship between the human body, as matter in motion, and the soul is a central concern for Descartes. He is perhaps best known for the "cogito ergo sum" argument, by which he believed he had proved that human thought and existence is not a fantasy, or a trick played on us. Foucault's views the Cogito as a key philosophical shift in man's conception of madness.
Discourse  -  Discourse is central concept for Foucault, which is first introduced in Madness and Civilization but developed in his later work. A discourse is essentially a total system of knowledge that makes true or false statements possible. Certain statements become possible within certain discourses. The discourse of madness is particularly powerful. The madman believes unreal things to be true because the delirious discourse that structures his belief dictates it. See also delirium.
Goya  -  Francisco Goya, Spanish painter (1726–1848). Foucault finds some of the nightmarish figures of Goya's darker, hallucinatory works representative of various kinds of madness, and of the experience of classical unreason in general. He draws a line from Goya to Artaud, Nietzsche and others; all these artists let the almost silent voice of unreason speak.
Madness  -  Madness for Foucault is a term with many meanings. It has a complex relationship to unreason; it is both part of unreason and separate from it. It is essentially constructed and controlled by the intellectual and cultural forces that operate within society. The treatment of the mad depends fundamentally on how they are perceived, Madness in the middle ages was associated with dark secrets and visions of the end of the world; in the classical period, however, it was confined along with other forms of social deviance and lost its exclusive status. The modern idea of madness as a treatable mental disease developed from nineteenth century ideas of madness as a kind of moral evil.
Nerval  -  Gerard de Nerval (1808–55), French poet and writer. Foucault views him, along with other insane artists such as Nietzsche and Artaud, as representative of the link between madness and art.
Nietzsche  -  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), German philosopher. Nietzsche was a deep influence on all of Foucault's work. In the context of madness and civilization, Foucault discusses Nietzsche along with Artaud, Van Gogh and others as part of a tradition of mad artists. Nietzsche was mad for the last years of his life. For Foucault, the beginning of madness is the necessary end of the work of art; in a sense, Nietzsche's value as a philosopher and artist begins and ends at this point.
Police  -  Foucault defines the police as a set of rules and tactics that make work possible and necessary for those who cannot do without it. it becomes important in Foucault's discussion of the relationship between madness and labor. The "police" in French thought had always referred not to the idea of a modern police force, but to a set of laws and customs that regulated behavior.
Unreason  -  Unreason, like madness, is a term that shifts in meaning. Essentially, it refers to those people, literary works and experiences that are beyond reason. Foucault thinks that classical unreason is reason "dazzled", blinded by the light of experience. In the classical period, reason sought to confine unreason in the shape of social deviance; at this point unreason included the mad, the bad and the lazy. Madness and unreason have a complex and changing relationship; sometimes madness forms part of unreason, but sometimes they are clearly separated.

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