(1) Madness and Medicine


These works each interrogate the history of medicine through the archaeological method which he later describes in Archaeology of Knowledge. In Madness and Civilization, he sees insanity as a limit experience of reason, and investigates the discursive origins of the practice of exclusion of insanity. What is at stake here is ultimately a rewriting of the history of science as a history of reason, attempting to come to grips with the exclusion of the insane from "civilized" society. Like Bataille, Foucault is here interested in madness as an absolute limit which makes the entire enterprise of reason tremble because it cannot account for it. The medical practice of psychiatric commitment is seen as a means of excluding that which cannot be accounted for. Birth of the Clinic deals more generally with the "gaze" [régard] in medical practice, which is identified as a nonverbal structure from which all medical language and behavior proceeds. A key assumption of both works is spelled out in the introduction to BOC: "In our time -- and Nietzsche the philologist testifies to it -- [the possibility and necessity of critique] are linked to the fact that language exists and that, in the innumerable words spoken by men -- whether they are reasonable or senseless, demonstrative or poetic -- a meaning has taken shape that hangs over us, leading us forward in our blindness, but awaiting in the darkness for us to attain awareness before emerging into the light of day and speaking. We are doomed historically to history, to the patient construction of discourses, and to the task of hearing what has already been said," (xvi). This assumption is both structuralist and determinist; the power of linguistic structures to perpetuate a given reality and then obscure the fact that that reality has arisen mostly through choices made by human agents underwrites the project. Clearly, Foucault's earlier work also has a romantic impulse; he clearly sees himself uncovering some kind of truth behind the discourses he takes apart.


(2) Knowledge


OT performs an archaeology of the human sciences as disciplines. It is most controversial in its treatment of psychoanalysis, which becomes not a major break in the history of science but a discursive formation which is continuous with that history even as it pretends to break with it. AOK is Foucault's first methodological text, describing the archaeological project as a situated practice of historical research. "The cry goes up that one is murdering history whenever, in a historical analysis -- and especially if it is concerned with thought, ideas, or knowledge -- one is seen to be using in too obvious a way the categories of discontinuity and difference, the notions of threshold, rupture and transformation, the description of series and limits. One will be denounced for attacking the inalienable rights of history and the very foundations of any possible historicity. But one must not be deceived: what is being bewailed with such vehemence is not the disappearance of history, but the eclipse of that form of history which was secretly, but entirely, related to the synthetic activity of the subject; what is being bewailed is the 'development' (devenir) that was to provide the sovereignty of the consciousness with a safer, less exposed shelter than myths, kinship systems, languages, sexuality, or desire..." (14).


(3) Literature and Philosophy


While these pieces aren't archaeologies per se, I include them here because they occur during what is known as Foucault's archaeological period. They are significant not so much in terms of the archaeological project as a depth hermeneutic, but rather in terms of foreshadowing Foucault's turn to genealogy and, more significantly, his attempts to theorize resistance to power. It is also significant to see in this work the outlines of Foucault's perspective towards madness, cruelty, and power as an interest in these conditions not as morally charged behaviors but as limit experiences. Bataille and Blanchot both attempted to approach philosophy and literature through its limits -- through those experiences and moments which could not be accounted for. Foucault's interest in transgression as a foundational moment for that which is transgressed could be said to underlie his notion of resistance as "the odd term in power relations," (see HOS below). Foucault's theory of subjectivity is also quite clearly influenced by his readings of these writers.




[Foucault home] [Discussions] [Links] [Essays]
[Ben's Home Page] [Communication Studies]


This document resides at http://www.csun.edu/~hfspc002/fouc.A1-3.html