File spoon-archives/foucault.archive/foucault_2000/foucault.0011, message 17

Date: Mon, 06 Nov 2000 14:27:15 -0500
Subject: Re: Foucault on Madness, other information

on 11/6/00 2:07 PM, William J King at wrote:

> Fellow Foucaulians:
> It has been a while since I have read "Madness & Civilization"
> but as I recall the drill went like this:  madness was
> tolerated and was a village issue until the demands of
> capitalism required a stricter order of communities.
> Then and only then, did the institutionalization of
> madness commence.
> Well, in my studies of Medieval Islam, esp, Howard Turner's
> _Science in Medieval Islam_ he shows a floor plan of
> a 13th century hospital in Cairo with rooms for each of
> insane females and insane males. (p 143)
> The point being that the demands of capitalism may not have
> been the  deciding factor in institutionalizing the insane.
> Comments?

I don't think that that is necessarily an accurate reading of Madness and
Civilization. The first thing that comes to mind is the Leper Colonies and
the Ship of Fools. I think that the concern in this particular instance is
the manner in which madness was transformed form something separate from
society to something that was a part of the formation of knowledge

I don't know enough myself in regards to Medieval Islam to respond directly
to that point except to note what I think seems to be one of the greatest
"errors" in the application of Foucault's readings of history: the use of
Foucault as a universal intellectual. That is to say, I think that Foucault
limits his historical inquiry to a particular instance (namely France) and
claims to speak only for that historical instance. Here the inquiry serves
to illuminate breaks in what we've known to be "history" rather than to
rewrite a new historical narrative.

Perhaps a similar reading could be done of Islam, perhaps not -- I think
that is a question that Foucault leaves open. I do not think that these
instances either "prove" or "disprove" -- I think that that is never the
point at all.


Asher Haig 
Dartmouth 2004


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