Antonin Artaud (1896–1948)

Artaud was a French actor, writer, and dramatic theorist. He was a drug addict and spent a large part of his life institutionalized. 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.

Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616)

Cervantes was a Spanish novelist, and the author of Don Quixote, which is widely considered the first modern novel. 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.

René Descartes (1596–1650)

Descartes was a 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 our conception of madness.

Francisco Goya (1746–1828)

Goya a Spanish romantic painter. 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.

Gerard de Nerval (1808–1855)

Nerval was a 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.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900)

The 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 insane 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.