Roger Scruton on madness and method
Madness and Civilization Michael Foucault (Tavistock, Social Science Paperback, £1.00) The Order of Things Michael Foucault (Tavistock, £3.75).
In the earlier work now reissued, Madness and Civilization Foucault attempts to describe the place which civilization, since the Renaissance, has offered to madness. He traces the confinement of madmen to its origins in the seventeenth century, associating this confinement with the ethic of work and the rise of the middle classes. Foucault thinks that, as an historian, he should be concerned not with the origins of events but with their deeper significance. He reduces every object of historical study to an epi-phenomenon — a by-product and manifestation of what he calls the ' experience ' that compels it. Thus he says, not that the economic reorganization of urban society brought about confinement, but that "it was in a certain experience of labour that the indissolubly economic and moral demand for confinement was formulated."
The madman is ' other ' in the classical age because he points to the limits of the Prevailing ethic, and alienates himself from its demands. But through confinement madness is subjected to the rule of reason: the madman now lives under the Jurisdiction of those who are sane, confined by their laws and instructed by their sense of what is right. The resource of reason in this close encounter is to reveal to madness its own 'truth.' To lack reason is, for classical thought, to become an animal. The madman must therefore be made to enact the part of an animal; he is used as a beast of burden, and by this confrontation with his own
truth' is finally made whole. Each success age finds a similar 'truth ' through which the experience of madness can he transcended into sanity. But Foucault suggests that the stock of these truths is now exhausted. The book ends With a satanistic economium of madness, in which Foucault appeals to the gods of the modern French Olympium — Goya, de Sade, Holderlin, Nerval, Van Gogh, Artaud and Nietzsche .— to testify to this exhaustion. Banal as it is, it gains no substance from the studies that precede it. It was clear to the eighteenth century, according to Foucault, that while madness was able to express itself, it had no language in which to do so besides that which reason could provide. The only phenomenology of madness lies in sanity. Surely then, the eighteenth century had at least one sound intuition about the nature of unreason? The province of language and the province of reason are coextensive, and if madness contains its own truths,' as Foucault claims, these are essentially inexpressible. How then can we rightly imagine a 'language' of unreason, a language in which the truths of madness are expressed and to which we must now attune our ears? The idea of such a language is the idea of an endless delirious monologue, which neither the man of reason nor the madman himself can understand. Such a language, even if it could exist, would bear no resemblance to the hard remorseless logic of The Twilight of the Idols, or to the precise symbolism of Les Chimeres. Foucault's heroes would have been unable to use this language, even in their final madness, and if we can understand them it is without its aid.
For the nineteenth century, according to Foucault, the experience of ' unreason ' characteristic of the classical period becomes dissociated: madness is confined within a moral intuition and the fantasy of an unceasing monologue of madness, in a language inaccessible to reason, is forgotten. This idea is to be resuscitated, however, at the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Freudian theory of unconscious thought-processes that determine the behaviour of the irrational man. In the nineteenth century madness has become a threat to the whole structure of bourgeois life, and the madman, while superficially innocent, is profoundly guilty in his failure to submit to familiar norms. The greatest offence of madness is against the bourgeois family ' as Foucault calls it, and it is the 'experience' of this family that dictates the paternalistic structure of the asylums. The ethos of judgement and reprobation in the asylum leads to a new attitude to madness — madness is at last observed. It is no longer thought that the madman has anything to say: he is an anomaly in the world of action, responsible only for his visible behaviour.
In the asylum the man of reason is presented as an adult, and madness as an incessant attack against the Father. The madman must be brought to recognise his error, and reveal to the Father his consciousness of guilt. Thus there is a natural transition from the ' confession in crisis " characteristic of the asylum to the Freudian dialogue, in which the analyst listens to and translates the language of unreason, but in which madness is still forced to see itself as a disobedience and a transgression. Finally, Foucault intimates, it is because psychoanalysis has refused to suppress the family structure as the only one through which madness can be seen or known that its introduction of a dialogue with madness leads to no understanding of the voices of unreason.
But this facile association of the words ' bourgeois' and ' family ' has no historical justification, nor indeed is it clear that the bourgeois family has always had the most paternalistic or authoritarian structure, as families go. By this association Foucault is able to suggest that the family structure is as dispensable as the particular social structure which gives precedence to the bourgeosie — which is surely both historically and logically a simple fallacy. If the family is always with us, is it surprising that it leaves its traces in the psychological deformities of those who are deranged? How can this fact be used as a measure either of the value of family life or of the truth of any particular conception of mental illness?
Despite these faults, Madness and Civilization is an interesting and often brilliant book. The translation (by Richard Howard) is excellent, and re-creates the emphatic rhetoric of the original. It is a pity that an absurd introduction by David Cooper should be thought appropriate.
The Order of Things (a translation of Les Mots et Les Choses) goes one stage further in every direction than the earlier work: the sources are more recondite, the ideas more obscure and the arguments more difficult to follow. It is subtitled " an archaeology of the human sciences " and concludes with the view that ' man ' is a recent invention, doomed to disappear. It is only since the Renaissance that the fact of being a man (rather than, say, a farmer, a soldier or a nobleman) has been given the special significance we now attribute to it. The sciences which have taken man as their object are recent inventions, already outmoded as forms of knowledge. The idea of man is as fragile and transient as any other idea in the history of human knowledge, and must give way under the impulse of a new ' experience ' of the world to something we cannot name.
But are Foucault's theories really as ambitious and surprising as he makes them sound, and are the facts on which they are based so difficult to unearth? We are told, for example, that the Renaissance saw the world in terms of resemblance, but that later this episteme was replaced by another, that of 'identity and difference.' But every application of a concept can be described as the discovery of a resemblance. How then, can resemblance cease to be a fundamental form of human knowledge? And how can it be replaced by. identity and difference, with which it is interdefinable? These logical difficulties lie at the heart of Foucault's theory, and however brilliant the rhetoric, they cannot be thought away.