Sunday, April 29, 2007

Certain kinds of ideological errors react with material histories, and alter them

It is time, at last, for me to confront Andrew Scull’s recent review (now a little less so) of Michel Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization. The book has come out in an expanded and newly translated edition.
I will be brief. Scull’s review is a disaster, and the worst of it is that some of his criticisms are undoubtedly just. Furthermore, some of what has been written against Scull is useless.
This post follows up on Scott Eric Kaufman’s two excellent posts on the subject, here (1) and here (2). I’m indebted to Scott for the links below. Though I disagree with him about the value of Foucault’s book, I think his comparison of “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” with Madness and Civilization is very helpful.
I am not merely aiming to pick apart Scull’s response to Foucault; my real target is Scull’s blithe cynicism about the 1960s. That decade, which already signifies an irresponsible utopianism in most public discourse, is now slowly being rejected by academia as an embarrassment. We literally run the risk of losing works like Madness and Civilization, Eros and Civilization, and Life Against Death to this smug and unreasoning process of expulsion...
Scull may be right that the real historical conditions in mental institutions did not always match the rhetoric of the age. He calls Foucault out as a fortunate deceiver, “cynical” and “shameless,” and hints darkly at Foucault’s effect on “people’s lives.” But if we have learned anything from Foucault, and from his predecessor Nietzsche, it is that certain kinds of ideological errors react with material histories, and alter them. To treat the lot of Foucault’s textual criticism of madness as nothing – that is pure, indefensible ideology. It endeavors to silence Foucault, and restores to us a good conscience we have done nothing to deserve. Published in: Art & Aesthetics Utopian thought The Valve Foucault Ethics & Morality Philosophy Deleuze Psychoanalysis Politics on April 29, 2007 at 4:44 am Comments (0)

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