Appendix I. Madness, the ab­sence of an œu­vre

— Foucault, Michel. Madness, the ab­sence of an œu­vre.” In History of Mad­ness, edited by J. Khalfa, 541-549. Routledge, 2006.

One day, per­haps, we will no longer know what mad­ness was. Its form will have closed up on it­self, and the traces it will have left will no longer be in­tel­li­gi­ble. To the ig­no­rant glance, will those traces be any­thing more than sim­ple black marks? At most, they will be part of those con­fig­u­ra­tions that we are now un­able to form, but which will be the in­dis­pens­able grids that will make our cul­ture and our­selves leg­i­ble to the fu­ture. Artaud will then be­long to the foun­da­tion of our lan­guage, and not to its rup­ture; neu­roses will be placed among the forms that are con­sti­tu­tive of (and not de­viant from) our so­ci­ety. All that we ex­pe­ri­ence to­day as lim­its, or strange­ness, or the in­tol­er­a­ble, will have joined the seren­ity of the pos­i­tive. And that which for us now des­ig­nates this Exterior might come, one day, to des­ig­nate us.

All that will re­main will be the enigma of that Exteriority. What, they will won­der, was that strange de­lim­i­ta­tion that was in force from the early Middle Ages un­til the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, and per­haps be­yond? Why did Western cul­ture ex­pel to its ex­trem­i­ties the very thing in which it might just as eas­ily have recog­nised it­self - where it had in fact recog­nised it­self in an oblique fash­ion? Why, since the nine­teenth cen­tury, but also since the clas­si­cal age, had it clearly stated that mad­ness was the naked truth of man, only to place it in a pale, neu­tralised space, where it was al­most en­tirely can­celled out? Why had it ac­cepted the words of Nerval and Artaud, and recog­nised it­self in their words but not in them?

In this way the vivid im­age of rea­son in flames will fade. The fa­mil­iar game of gaz­ing at the fur­thest part of our­selves in mad­ness, of lend­ing an ear to those voices which, from far away, tell us most clearly what we are, that game, with its rules, its tac­tics, its in­ven­tions, its ruses, its tol­er­ated il­le­gal­i­ties, will for­ever be noth­ing more than a com­plex rit­ual whose mean­ings will have been re­duced to ashes. Something like those grand cer­e­monies of ex­change and ri­valry in ar­chaic so­ci­eties. Something like the am­bigu­ous at­ten­tion that Greek rea­son paid to its or­a­cles. Or that twin in­sti­tu­tion, since the Christian four­teenth cen­tury, of the prac­tices and tri­als of witch­craft. For civil­i­sa­tions of his­to­ri­ans there will be noth­ing more than the cod­i­fied mea­sures of con­fine­ment, the tech­niques of med­i­cine, and on the other side the sud­den, ir­rup­tive in­clu­sion in our lan­guage of the words of the ex­cluded.

What will the tech­ni­cal sub­stra­tum of such a mu­ta­tion be? The pos­si­bil­ity of med­i­cine mas­ter­ing men­tal ill­ness like any other or­ganic con­di­tion? The pre­cise phar­ma­co­log­i­cal con­trol of all psy­chi­cal symp­toms? Or a de­f­i­n­i­tion of be­hav­ioural de­vian­cies suf­fi­ciently rig­or­ous for so­ci­ety to be able to pro­vide, for each one, the ap­pro­pri­ate mode of neu­tral­i­sa­tion? Or other mod­i­fi­ca­tions still, none of which per­haps will re­ally sup­press men­tal ill­ness, but whose mean­ing will be to re­move the face of mad­ness from our cul­ture?

I am well aware that by for­mu­lat­ing that last idea, I am con­test­ing some­thing that is or­di­nar­ily ad­mit­ted: that med­ical progress might one day cause men­tal ill­ness to dis­ap­pear, like lep­rosy and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis; but that one thing will re­main, which is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween man and his fan­tasies, his im­pos­si­ble, his non-cor­po­real pain, his car­cass of night; that once the patho­log­i­cal is nul­li­fied, the ob­scure be­long­ing of man to mad­ness will be the age­less mem­ory of an ill whose form as sick­ness has been ef­faced, but which lives on ob­sti­nately as un­hap­pi­ness. Truth be told, such an idea sup­poses that that which is most pre­car­i­ous, far more pre­car­i­ous than the con­stan­cies of the patho­log­i­cal, is in fact un­al­ter­able: the re­la­tion­ship of a cul­ture to the very thing that it ex­cludes, and more pre­cisely the re­la­tion­ship be­tween our own cul­ture and that truth about it­self which, dis­tant and in­verted, it un­cov­ers and cov­ers up in mad­ness.

That which will be not be long in dy­ing, that which is al­ready dy­ing in us (and whose death bears our cur­rent lan­guage) is homo di­alecti­cus - that be­ing of the out­set, of the re­turn and of time it­self, the an­i­mal that loses its truth and finds it again il­lu­mi­nated, a stranger to him­self who be­comes fa­mil­iar once more. That man was the sov­er­eign sub­ject and the dom­i­nated ob­ject of all the dis­courses on man, and es­pe­cially alien­ated man, that have been in cir­cu­la­tion for a long time. Luckily, their chat­ter is killing him.

So much so that we will no longer know how man was able to cast at a dis­tance this fig­ure of him­self, how he could push be­yond the limit the very thing that de­pended on him, and on which he de­pended. No thought will be able to think that move­ment where still very re­cently Western man found its bear­ings. It is that re­la­tion­ship to mad­ness (and not any knowl­edge about men­tal ill­ness, or a cer­tain at­ti­tude in the face of alien­ated man) that will be lost for­ever. All that will be known is that we, Western men five cen­turies old, were, on the sur­face of the earth, those peo­ple who, among many other fun­da­men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics, had one that was stranger than all the oth­ers: we had a deep and pathos-filled re­la­tion­ship to men­tal ill­ness, one that we our­selves found dif­fi­cult to for­mu­late, but which was im­pen­e­tra­ble to any­one else, and in which we ex­pe­ri­enced the most vivid of all our dan­gers, and what was per­haps our clos­est truth. It will be said not that we were dis­tant from mad­ness, but that we were in the dis­tance of mad­ness. In the same way that the Greeks were not dis­tant from hubris be­cause they con­demned it, but rather were in the dis­tanc­ing of that ex­cess, in the midst of the dis­tance at which they kept it con­fined.

These peo­ple - who will no longer be us - will still have to con­sider this enigma (a lit­tle the way we do our­selves, when we try to un­der­stand to­day how Athens man­aged to fall in and out of love with the un­rea­son of Alcibiades): how could men have searched for their truth, their es­sen­tial words and their signs in a risk that made them trem­ble, and from which they could not avert their gaze, once it had caught their eye? This will seem even stranger to them than ask­ing death about the truth of man; for death at least says what all men will be. Madness, on the other hand, is that rare dan­ger, a chance that weighs lit­tle in re­la­tion to the fears that it en­gen­ders and the ques­tions it is asked. How, in a cul­ture, could so slim an even­tu­al­ity come to hold such a power of rev­e­la­tory dread?

To an­swer that ques­tion, these peo­ple who will be look­ing back at us over their shoul­ders will have lit­tle to go on. Only a few burnt clues: a fear that came back re­peat­edly over the cen­turies that mad­ness would rise up and swamp the world; the rit­u­als sur­round­ing the ex­clu­sion and in­clu­sion of the mad­man; that care­ful at­ten­tion, from the nine­teenth cen­tury on­wards, that tried to sur­prise in mad­ness some­thing that would re­veal the truth of man; the same im­pa­tience that re­jected and ac­cepted the words of mad­ness, a hes­i­tancy to recog­nise their inanity or their de­ci­sive­ness.

As for the rest: that sin­gle move­ment with which we go to meet the mad­ness from which we are dis­tanc­ing our­selves, that ter­ri­fied recog­ni­tion, that will to fix the limit and to make up for it im­me­di­ately through the weave of a sin­gle mean­ing, all that will be re­duced to si­lence, just as for us to­day the Greek tril­ogy of ma­nia, hubris and alo­gia, or the pos­ture of shamanic de­viancy in a par­tic­u­lar prim­i­tive so­ci­ety, are silent.

We are at that point, that fold in time, where a cer­tain tech­ni­cal con­trol of sick­ness hides rather than des­ig­nates the move­ment that closes the ex­pe­ri­ence of mad­ness in on it­self. But it is pre­cisely that fold that al­lows us to un­furl that which has been curled up for cen­turies: men­tal ill­ness and mad­ness - two dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions, which came to­gether and be­came con­fused from the sev­en­teenth cen­tury on­wards, and which are now mov­ing apart be­fore our eyes, or rather in­side our lan­guage.

To say that mad­ness is dis­ap­pear­ing to­day is to say that the im­pli­ca­tion that in­cluded it in both psy­chi­atric knowl­edge and a kind of an­thro­po­log­i­cal re­flec­tion is com­ing un­done. But that is not to say that the gen­eral form of trans­gres­sion of which mad­ness has been the vis­i­ble face for cen­turies is dis­ap­pear­ing. Nor that trans­gres­sion, just as we are be­gin­ning to ask what mad­ness is, is not in the process of giv­ing birth to a new ex­pe­ri­ence.

There is not a sin­gle cul­ture any­where in the world where every­thing is per­mit­ted. And it has been known for some time that man does not be­gin with free­dom, but with lim­its and the line that can­not be crossed. The sys­tems that for­bid­den acts obey are fa­mil­iar, and every cul­ture has a dis­tinct scheme of in­cest pro­hi­bi­tions. But the or­gan­i­sa­tion of pro­hi­bi­tions in lan­guage is still lit­tle un­der­stood. The two sys­tems of re­stric­tion are not su­per­im­posed the one on the other, as though one were merely the ver­bal ver­sion of the other: that which must not ap­pear on the level of speech is not nec­es­sar­ily that which is for­bid­den in the or­der of acts. The Zuni, who for­bid the in­cest of a brother and a sis­ter nev­er­the­less nar­rate it, and the Greeks told the leg­end of Oedipus. Inversely, the 1808 code abol­ished the old pe­nal laws against sodomy, but the lan­guage of the nine­teenth cen­tury was far more in­tol­er­ant of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity (at least in its mas­cu­line form) than the lan­guage of pre­vi­ous ages had been. And it is quite prob­a­ble that psy­cho­log­i­cal con­cepts such as com­pen­sa­tion and sym­bolic ex­pres­sion are to­tally in­ad­e­quate to ac­count for such a phe­nom­e­non.

One day it will be nec­es­sary to study the field of pro­hi­bi­tions in lan­guage in all its au­ton­omy. Perhaps it is still too soon to know ex­actly how such an analy­sis might be done. Could the di­vi­sions that are cur­rently per­mit­ted in lan­guage be used? First of all, at the bor­der be­tween taboo and im­pos­si­bil­ity, we should iden­tify the laws that gov­ern the lin­guis­tic code (the things that are called, so clearly, lan­guage faults); and then, within the code, and among the words or ex­ist­ing ex­pres­sions, those whose ar­tic­u­la­tion is for­bid­den (the re­li­gious, sex­ual, magic se­ries of blas­phe­mous words); then the state­ments that are au­tho­rised by the code, licit in the act of speech, but whose mean­ing is in­tol­er­a­ble for the cul­ture in ques­tion at a given mo­ment: here a metaphor­i­cal de­tour is no longer pos­si­ble, for it is the mean­ing it­self that is the ob­ject of cen­sor­ship. Finally, there is a fourth form of ex­cluded lan­guage: this con­sists of sub­mit­ting speech that ap­par­ently con­forms to the recog­nised code to a dif­fer­ent code, whose key is con­tained within that speech it­self, so that the speech is dou­bled in­side it­self; it says what it says, but it adds a mute sur­plus that silently states what it says and the code ac­cord­ing to which it is said. This is not a ques­tion of coded lan­guage, but of a lan­guage that is struc­turally es­o­teric. Which is to say that it does not com­mu­ni­cate, while hid­ing it, a for­bid­den mean­ing; it sets it­self up from the very first in­stant in an es­sen­tial fold of speech. A fold that mines it from the in­side, per­haps to in­fin­ity. What is said in such a lan­guage is of lit­tle im­por­tance, as are the mean­ings that are de­liv­ered there. It is this ob­scure and cen­tral lib­er­a­tion of speech at the heart of it­self, its un­con­trol­lable flight to a re­gion that is al­ways dark, which no cul­ture can ac­cept im­me­di­ately. Such speech is trans­gres­sive, not in its mean­ing, not in its ver­bal mat­ter, but in its play.

It is quite prob­a­ble that every cul­ture, of what­ever na­ture, knows, prac­tises and tol­er­ates (to a cer­tain de­gree) but equally re­presses and ex­cludes these four forms of for­bid­den speech.

In Western his­tory, the ex­pe­ri­ence of mad­ness has shifted along this scale. Truth be told, it long oc­cu­pied an un­de­cided re­gion, which is dif­fi­cult for us to de­fine, be­tween the pro­hi­bi­tion of ac­tion and that of lan­guage: hence the ex­em­plary im­por­tance of the furor inani­tas pair­ing which prac­ti­cally or­gan­ised, ac­cord­ing to the reg­is­ters of ac­tion and speech, the world of mad­ness un­til the end of the Renaissance. The time of the Great Confinement (the Hôpitaux généraux, Charenton, Saint-Lazare, which were or­gan­ised in the sev­en­teenth cen­tury) marks a mi­gra­tion of mad­ness to­wards the re­gion of the in­sane: mad­ness hence­forth keeps lit­tle more than a moral re­la­tion­ship to for­bid­den acts (it re­mains es­sen­tially linked to sex­ual taboos), but it is in­cluded in the uni­verse of lan­guage pro­hi­bi­tions; with mad­ness, clas­si­cal con­fine­ment en­closes lib­erti­nage of thought and speech, ob­sti­nacy in impi­ety or het­ero­doxy, blas­phemy, witch­craft, alchemy - every­thing in short that char­ac­terises the spo­ken and for­bid­den world of un­rea­son; mad­ness is the ex­cluded lan­guage - the one which against the code of lan­guage pro­nounces words with­out mean­ing (the insane’, the imbeciles’, the demented’), or the one which pro­nounces sa­cred words (the violent’, the frenzied’), or the one which puts for­bid­den mean­ings into cir­cu­la­tion (‘libertines’, the obstinate’). Pinel’s re­form was far more the most vis­i­ble con­se­cra­tion of the re­pres­sion of mad­ness as for­bid­den speech than a mod­i­fi­ca­tion of it.

That mod­i­fi­ca­tion only re­ally came about with Freud, when the ex­pe­ri­ence of mad­ness shifted to­wards the last form of lan­guage pro­hi­bi­tion men­tioned above. At that point, it stopped be­ing a lan­guage fault, a blas­phemy spo­ken out loud, or an in­tol­er­a­ble mean­ing (and in that sense, psy­cho­analy­sis is in­deed the great lift­ing of pro­hi­bi­tions that Freud him­self de­fined); it ap­peared as speech wrapped up in it­self, say­ing, be­low every­thing that it says, some­thing else, for which it is at the same time the only pos­si­ble code: an es­o­teric lan­guage per­haps, since its lan­guage is con­tained in­side a speech that ul­ti­mately says noth­ing other than this im­pli­ca­tion.

Freud’s work should be taken for what it is; it does not dis­cover that mad­ness is caught up in a net­work of mean­ings that it shares with every day lan­guage, thereby au­tho­ris­ing us to speak of it with the every­day plat­i­tudes of psy­cho­log­i­cal vo­cab­u­lary. It dis­places the European ex­pe­ri­ence of mad­ness to sit­u­ate it in the per­ilous, still trans­gres­sive re­gion (and there­fore still for­bid­den, but in a par­tic­u­lar man­ner), which is that of lan­guages that im­ply them­selves, i.e. which state in their state­ment the lan­guage with which they state it. Freud did not dis­cover the lost iden­tity of a mean­ing; he iden­ti­fied the ir­rup­tive fig­ure of a sig­ni­fier that is ab­solutely un­like the oth­ers. That alone should have suf­ficed to pro­tect his work from all the psy­chol­o­gis­ing in­ten­tions that our half-cen­tury has em­ployed to smother it in the name (the de­risory name) of the human sci­ences’ and their asex­ual unity.

By that very fact, mad­ness ap­peared, not as the ruse of a hid­den mean­ing, but as a prodi­gious re­serve of mean­ing. But reserve’ here should be un­der­stood less as a stock than as a fig­ure that con­tains and sus­pends mean­ing, which fur­nishes a void where all that is pro­posed is the still un­ac­com­plished pos­si­bil­ity that a cer­tain mean­ing might ap­pear there, or a sec­ond, or a third, and so on to in­fin­ity. Madness opens a la­cu­nary re­serve, which des­ig­nates and demon­strates this hol­low where lan­guage and speech im­ply each other, form­ing the one on the ba­sis of the other, and speak­ing of noth­ing other than their still mute re­la­tion­ship. Since Freud, Western mad­ness has be­come a non-lan­guage be­cause it has be­come a dou­ble lan­guage (a lan­guage which only ex­ists in this speech, a speech that says noth­ing but its lan­guage) - i.e. a ma­trix of the lan­guage which, strictly speak­ing, says noth­ing. A fold of the spo­ken which is an ab­sence of work.

One day, it will have to be ac­knowl­edged that Freud did not make speak a mad­ness that had gen­uinely been a lan­guage for cen­turies (a lan­guage that was ex­cluded, gar­ru­lous inanity, speech which ran in­def­i­nitely out­side the re­flec­tive si­lence of rea­son); what he did was si­lence the un­rea­son­able Logos; he dried it out; he forced its words back to their source, all the way back to that blank re­gion of auto-im­pli­ca­tion where noth­ing is said.

We per­ceive things that are cur­rently go­ing on around us in a light that is still dim; and yet, in our lan­guage, a strange move­ment can be dis­cerned. Literature (and this prob­a­bly since Mallarmé), in its turn, is slowly be­com­ing a lan­guage [un lan­guage] whose speech [pa­role] states, at the same time as what it says and as part of the same move­ment, the lan­guage [la langue] that makes it de­ci­pher­able as speech. Before Mallarmé, writ­ing was a mat­ter of es­tab­lish­ing one’s speech in­side a given lan­guage, so that a work made of lan­guage was of the same na­ture as any other lan­guage, but for the signs (and they were ma­jes­tic) of Rhetoric, the Subject, or Images. At the close of the nine­teenth cen­tury (at the time of the dis­cov­ery of psy­cho­analy­sis, or there­abouts), it had be­come a speech that in­scribed in­side it­self the prin­ci­ple of its own de­cod­ing; or in any case, it sup­posed, be­neath each of its sen­tences, each of its words, the sov­er­eign power to mod­ify the val­ues and mean­ings of the lan­guage to which de­spite every­thing (and in fact) it be­longed; it sus­pended the reign of lan­guage in the pre­sent of a ges­ture of writ­ing.

One con­se­quence is the ne­ces­sity for these sec­ondary lan­guages (what we call crit­i­cism, in short): they no longer func­tion as ex­ter­nal ad­di­tions to lit­er­a­ture (judgements, me­di­a­tion, re­lays that were thought use­ful be­tween a work ex­am­ined in the psy­cho­log­i­cal enigma of its cre­ation and the act of con­sump­tion that is read­ing). Now they are a part, at the heart of lit­er­a­ture, of the void that it cre­ates in its own lan­guage; they are the nec­es­sary, but nec­es­sar­ily un­fin­ished, move­ment whereby speech is brought back to its lan­guage, and whereby lan­guage is es­tab­lished in speech.

Another con­se­quence is that strange prox­im­ity be­tween mad­ness and lit­er­a­ture, which must not be in­ter­preted as a psy­cho­log­i­cal kin­ship that has been laid bare at last. Discovered as a lan­guage si­lenc­ing it­self in its su­per­im­po­si­tion on it­self, mad­ness nei­ther demon­strates nor re­counts the birth of an œuvre (or some­thing that, by ge­nius or by chance, might have be­come an œuvre); it des­ig­nates the empty form from which such an œuvre comes, i.e. the place from which it is un­ceas­ingly ab­sent, where it will never be found be­cause it has never been there. There, in that pale re­gion, be­neath that es­sen­tial cover, the twin in­com­pat­i­bil­ity of an œuvre and mad­ness is un­veiled; it is the blind spot of each one’s pos­si­bil­ity, and of their mu­tual ex­clu­sion.

But since Raymond Roussel, since Artaud, it is also the place where lan­guage ap­proaches lit­er­a­ture most closely. But it does not ap­proach it as though its task were to for­mu­late what it has found. It is time to un­der­stand that the lan­guage of lit­er­a­ture is not de­fined by what it says, nor by the struc­tures that make it sig­nify some­thing, but that it has a be­ing, and that it is about that be­ing that it should be ques­tioned. But what is that be­ing at the pre­sent time? Something, no doubt, that is re­lated to auto-im­pli­ca­tion, to the dou­ble and the void that is hol­lowed out within it. In that sense the be­ing of lit­er­a­ture, such as it has been cre­ated since Mallarmé and still is to­day, at­tains the re­gion where, since Freud, the ex­pe­ri­ence of mad­ness has been en­acted.

In the eyes of I know not which fu­ture cul­ture - and per­haps it is al­ready very near - we shall be the peo­ple who brought most closely to­gether two sen­tences that are never re­ally ut­tered, two sen­tences as con­tra­dic­tory and im­pos­si­ble as the fa­mous I am ly­ing’ and which both des­ig­nate the same empty self-ref­er­ence: I write’ and I am deliri­ous’. In this way we find our­selves be­side a thou­sand other cul­tures that grouped to­gether I am mad’ with I am an an­i­mal’, or I am a God’ or I am a sign’, or even I am a truth’, as was the case for the nine­teenth cen­tury up un­til Freud. And if that cul­ture has a taste for his­tory, it will re­call that Nietzsche, go­ing mad, pro­claimed (in 1887) that he was the truth (why I am so wise, why I know so many things, why I write such good books, why I am a fa­tal­ity); and that less than fifty years later Roussel, on the eve of his sui­cide, wrote in Comment j’ai écrit cer­tains de mes livres the story, sys­tem­at­i­cally twinned, of his mad­ness and his writ­ing tech­niques. And they will no doubt be sur­prised that we were able to recog­nise such a strange kin­ship be­tween that which, for so long, was feared as a cry, and that which, for so long, was awaited like a song.


But per­haps this mu­ta­tion will not ap­pear to merit any as­ton­ish­ment. We, af­ter all, are the ones who, to­day, are sur­prised to see two lan­guages (that of mad­ness and that of lit­er­a­ture) com­mu­ni­cate, when their in­com­pat­i­bil­ity was built by our own his­tory. Since the sev­en­teenth cen­tury, mad­ness and men­tal ill­ness have oc­cu­pied the same space in the field of ex­cluded lan­guages (roughly speak­ing, that of in­san­ity). When it en­ters an­other re­gion of ex­cluded lan­guage (one that is cir­cum­scribed, held sa­cred, feared, erected ver­ti­cally above it­self, re­flect­ing it­self in a use­less and trans­gres­sive Fold, and is known as lit­er­a­ture), mad­ness re­leases it­self from its kin­ship (ancient or re­cent, ac­cord­ing to the scale we choose) with men­tal ill­ness.

The lat­ter, in all cer­tainty, is set to en­ter a tech­ni­cal re­gion that is in­creas­ingly well con­trolled: in hos­pi­tals, phar­ma­col­ogy has al­ready trans­formed the rooms of the rest­less into great tepid aquar­i­ums. But be­low the level of these trans­for­ma­tions, and for rea­sons which seem ex­ter­nal to them (at least to our cur­rent glance), a dénoue­ment is be­gin­ning to come about: mad­ness and men­tal ill­ness are un­do­ing their be­long­ing to the same an­thro­po­log­i­cal unity. That unity it­self is dis­ap­pear­ing, to­gether with man, a pass­ing pos­tu­late. Madness, the lyri­cal halo of sick­ness, is cease­lessly dim­ming its light. And far from pathol­ogy, in lan­guage, where it folds in on it­self with­out yet say­ing any­thing, an ex­pe­ri­ence is com­ing into be­ing where our think­ing is at stake; its im­mi­nence, vis­i­ble al­ready but ab­solutely empty, can­not yet be named.