Re: [Foucault-L] Foucault and Psychoactive Medicine

Hello Edward,

On thisproblem, a lot of commentators have read Foucault too quickly, to say
it the politically correct way. Foucault has never said that madness,
psychiatric illness,etc didn't exist or thatit was only disciplinary.
Foucault, who also got a licence in clinical psychology, also worked in
psychiatric institutions and knew verry well that madness was real...

Foucault's primary thesis "Histoire de la folie" should be undersood with
regard to the particulat methodology. More directly, I think whe cannot
understand what it is about if we don't pay attention to methodology and how
Foucault creates his object of research. A lot of commentators abstracted
the concepts from the positive basis on which Foucault was working, leading
to some curious metaphysics or epistemology. So, what was Foucault's
methodology? Whe could certainly agree that it was "history" (a field he
contributed to transform, as his close friend Paul Veyne said). What is the
corpus on which he was working? Archive, texts, materialization of
discourses... What is the question, the central problem? What perspective on
this problem? The problem was : given a set of historical archives related
to this field that whe now call psychiatry, what kind of history can I count
if I don't ask or presuppose the truth or the falseness of this thing that
whe now call "mental illness"?
So, from within the particular methodological hypothesis that mental illness
doesn't exist, fith the use of this kind of historical nominalism Foucault
payed more attention to the practices that where described in those sets of
dusty archives. And by this means, he discovered that madness or unreason
don't mean the same thing at different periods of time. They are not linked
to same conception of body, soul, healing, normality... So that the history
of those parctices and the way people dealed and conceived mental illness in
the 17th and the 19th were completely different. Hence, the hypothèses of a
continuous line that goes from the couple madness/unreason in the 17th, for
exemple, to the current "mental illness" is totally artificial, because all
the archives we have show objective proofs of the contrary.

An other thing that Foucault discovered : this particular disease whe now
understand as "mental illness" appeared because of some kind of disciplinary
practices. This means that Foucault don't say: "there is no mental illness".
That's not what he claims! What he says is that, by thoses cractices, some
people discovered that all inmates were not the same, didn't react the same
way, were not all able to work... And it's from within this field of medical
practices that tose new discourses on madness emerged, hence a new
distinction between madnes and unreason. It implied new techniques to deal
with this new partition, so that people could define such a thing that whe
all know as "mental illness", or more precisely all those things that are
now "mental illnesseS". Some of those illnesses could be cured by speach,
but there are other problems that could not...

For some sources:
- "Histoire de la folie à l'age classique" for the question of mental
- there are several methodological statements on the question in
"L'archéologie du savoir" or in Foucault's lectures at the Collège de France
(Introduction à la biopolitique,...).
- If you search in the Dits et Ecrits, you should find a lot on the
- You could also stare at Georges Canguilhem (le normal et le
pathologique...), who had a major influence ont Fouc's works...
- ...


2010/6/21 Edward Comstock <ecomst@xxxxxxxxxxxx>

> I have a general sense from Psychiatric Power and other works that
> Foucault argues that medicine, in early psychiatric practice and until
> around the mid-twentieth century or so, has mostly only a disciplinary
> function. And for this reason, medicine in psychiatry is frequently not
> understood to actually act on or "cure" the underlying disorder, but
> rather to, say, curb or eradicate unwanted behaviors, or to reproduce
> certain effects of the disorder, or serve as the test of the disorder. But
> now we can see drugs working at a "deeper" level, often, ostensibly, at
> the very level of the "organic lesion," as with drugs that are understood
> to work on brain chemical imbalances that cause, say, depression.
> So my question is, can anybody recommend any research on the role of drugs
> in psychiatry and the movement towards drugs as a kind of "cure" of the
> disorder rather than as a disciplinary technology? Or does anybody know a
> place where Foucault is clear about his position on this?
> Any thoughts well appreciated!
> _____________________
> Ed Comstock
> College Writing Program
> Department of Literature
> American University
> ------------------------------------
> The easy possibility of letter writing must--seen theoretically--have
> brought into the world a terrible dislocation of souls. It is, in fact, an
> intercourse with ghosts, and not only with the ghost of the recipient, but
> also with one's own ghost... How on earth did anybody get the idea that
> people can communicate with each other by letter!--Franz Kafka
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> Foucault-L mailing list

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