Re: [Foucault-L] citation query

On this question of 'construction' etc I have found the recent book by Susan Hekman - 'The Material of Knowledge: Feminist Disclosures' (2010) - to be a useful summation of the field that attempts to push the reading of Foucault (and others) in a direction that avoids this understanding of 'construction' as immaterial, ideal, or arbitrary. It is also a good starting point for further inquiry into the texts it discusses, although in some cases the readings provided seem to draw on material that I am very aware of but which she perhaps has remembered from conversations past but couldn't remember where from. For example, the discussion of Althusser seems to draw on Montag's 1995 paper on Althusser and Foucault. This is probably the case with some of the other discussions in there. Regardless, it is is a good starting point for those interested in the work of Ian Hacking, Liz Grosz, Judith Butler, Bruno Latour, etc.

There are some free chapters (PDF) here: http://

On 03/09/2010, at 2:52 PM, Chetan Vemuri wrote:

I wouldn't say his early material "denies" biological reality, but
rather focuses on the "history of concepts" in the tradition of
Canguilhem. The early work is dealing with the particular investitures
placed on particular concepts like "mental illness", "therapy" and
such through various historical eras in western history and what they
signified or their very usefulness as terms varied by general period.
The biological/physical phenomena itself is not denied but the
conceptual interpretations attached to its various states are
historicized (or relativized depending on your point of view)

On Fri, Sep 3, 2010 at 12:03 AM, Fouad Kalouche <fkalouche@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

I think that there is a lack of clarity in the original question.

If indeed the question is about the "reality" or "unreality" (sic) of the fact of suffering, then Clare and David responded adequately to it.

But if the question is actually about whether any illness (including "mental illness") is a social construction (a set of discourses and practices or a regime of truth, etc.) and not purely a biological (or a physical or metaphysical) "reality", then Foucault could be denying such a reality. In the early works of F. about mental illness, it is clear that Foucault wants to focus on how illness is historically created as a "social reality"--through institutions and apparatuses, etc.-- based on different discourses and practices addressing/interpreting the physical "manifestations" of said illness. Some may argue that there is a neo-Kantian element here, but it is actually a position that is geneologically related to post-Hegelian and Nietzschean approaches to historical, social, and political "(over-) determination" of values and meanings.

Fouad Kalouche

From: vagabond@xxxxxxxxx
Date: Fri, 3 Sep 2010 07:57:07 +0930
To: foucault-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: [Foucault-L] citation query

It's worth remembering that Foucault had more than one personal
friend who suffered from mental illness.

Nikki Moore's PhD thesis on Foucault, Althusser, and Jacques Martin
is available on the web

'Between work : Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser and Jacques
Martin' (MIT, 2005)

Like Foucault, Martin was a homosexual affliliated with the PCF, but
not a member (this of course has strong resonances with Foucault's
situation in the '50s), and his suicide had a big impact on
Althusser, who dedicated For Marx to him. From what I remember,
Foucault was close to him as well. From what I remember of
Althusser's recollections, they resonate strongly with Foucault's
comment cited by Clare below.

See, for example, the following passage from chapter 3 of her thesis:

"Before examining the absence of work, or what Shoshana Felman calls
'unaccomplishment at work', I would like to explore two readings of
the formation of the concept 'work' itself, as it was first defined
by Kant. From there I would like to explore the link between Kant's
notion of work and Foucault's theorization of its absence by looking
at two of Foucault's publications which mere most markedly influenced
by the figure of Jacques Martin and his friendship with Foucault: L
'Histoire de La Folie a l 'age Classique and an article entitled
"Madness, the Absence of Work". Following this, it is important to
look through the lens of Martin, as symbol and as friend, at attempts
made in secondary literature which systematize Foucault's own work
along the lines of a false concept of an absence of work, in order to
offer an alternative viewing which allows Foucault's own work the
freedom from oeuvre making it both seeks and deserves." (pp. 36-37)

This, together with Foucault's friendship with Althusser (also a
mental patient) and his work in the mental hospital suggest that the
suffering of the mentally ill had a personal pertinence for Foucault

On 03/09/2010, at 7:25 AM, c.ofarrell@xxxxxxxxxx wrote:


First, it's my impression that Foucault at one point acknowledged
people living under the description "mental illness" may be suffering
in important respects, but that the reality or unreality of that fact
was largely irrelevant to his project. I seem to recall seeing
this in
an interview, but don't recall where.

I don't think he quite saw it that way. In fact one could argue
that it is
Foucault's outrage at the suffering of the mentally ill and other
marginalised people that underpins this intellectual work. I think
I know
the interview you mean - I can't remember which one - but he would
have been
trying to distinguish what he was doing from existential or

See his 1977 'The Lives of Infamous Men' (in Power Essential Works
vol 3).
where he mentions 'the resonance I still experience today when I
happen to
encounter these lowly lives reduced to ashes in the few sentences that
struck them down' (p. 158)

See also 'Reponse a Derrida' (Dits et ecrits item 104) where in a
heated response to Derrida he notes that for Derrida his work on
must seem 'naive indeed ... in wanting to undertake this history on
basis of these derisory events which are the enclosure of some tens of
thousands of people or the organisation of an extra-judiciary State
(p. 283)

Clare O'Farrell

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Chetan Vemuri
West Des Moines, IA
"You say you want a Revolution! Well you know, we all want to change the world"

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  • Re: [Foucault-L] citation query
    • From: Chetan Vemuri
  • Replies
    [Foucault-L] citation query, Matthew Gambino
    Re: [Foucault-L] citation query, c . ofarrell
    Re: [Foucault-L] citation query, David McInerney
    Re: [Foucault-L] citation query, Fouad Kalouche
    Re: [Foucault-L] citation query, Chetan Vemuri
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