Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason
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“Madness and Civilisation”, which was first published in 1959, was the first major work of the cultural critic and maverick structuralist Foucault, and it eloquently and stylishly establishes the main themes, (namely, power, knowledge, confinement) of his later works. Foucault, in his brilliant and forceful exposition, traces the codes or “epistemes” responsible for the shaping of madness from the Reneissance and up to the late nineteenth century. He charts the history of insanity from it being considered as a virtually harmless “wisdom of folly”, to it being considered as a disease in the age of confinement and the psychiatric clinic. Drawing on several imprtant representations of madness in culture, which include the Ship of Fools of Jerome Bosch, and “The Disparates” of Goya, as well as the fates of Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Nerval and Artuad in the modern era, he “deconstructs” the concept of “reason” itself, by placing it in an inverse relation to supposedly “mad” experience. He asks the fundamental, and highly philosophical, question of “what does it mean to be mad, and what is the qualitative distinction between ‘sanity’ and ‘insanity’?” This leads him to make the extraordinary claim that the “pathologisation” of madness, its treatment as a disease, is something approximating a disease of the modern era itself. Madness represents a moment of rupture, whose suppression is an attempt to avoid something mysterious, unseizable and dangerous within our own selves. In his examination of the history of confinement, and the supposed devastation that it has caused, Foucault is not trying (as his critics have alleged) to promote insanity in a bid to transgress social modes and conventional wisdom
“Superb scholarship rendered with artistry” –The Nation