In putting together these three short essays by Georges Canguilhem, I hope to be able to give some indication of the remarkable intellectual fruitfulness of the exchanges between Canguilhem and Michel Foucault. Canguilhem’s own work in the history and philosophy of science, which Foucault always recognized as an important source for some of his own books, contains a specific orientation and kind of analysis that has perhaps not yet been sufficiently exploited in the Anglo-American disciplines of science studies. More specifically, these essays by Canguilhem allow us to see the continuing importance and extraordinary density of Foucault’s Histoire de la folie, which, it is still hard to believe, has never been fully translated into English.
Arnold I. Davidson, the executive editor of Critical Inquiry, is professor of philosophy and member of the Committee on the Conceptual Foundations of Science at the University of Chicago. Appointed a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin for 1994-95, he has recently published a series of essays on the tradition of spiritual exercises in philosophy and is completing a book on the history of horror and wonder.
Mr. Foucault essentially endeavors to show that madness is an object of perception in a “social space” structured in diverse ways throughout the course of history, an object of perception created by social practices rather than grasped by a collective sensibility, rather, above all, than broken down analytically by speculative understanding. Madness at first occupied the social space left vacant by a plague that was progressively diminishing. The perception of madness at first participated in the terror inspired by the evil that had been penned up in leper colonies when these were turned over to the hospitalization of the insane. The real “invention” of the classical age was internment (in 1657 in France), in which the mad, because incapable of work, joined the beggar, the indigent, and the unemployed, whom an attempt was made to recuperate for compulsory labor when economic crises deprived them of paid labor. This administrative and police practice was also an ethical managing. Internment threw together in the same spatial limits of reprobation the idle, the prodigal, the libertine. Madness here loses its individuality in the indistinction of what classical reason (a value indiscriminately logical and social) opposes to itself under the collective noun unreason [déraison]….
Georges Canguilhem is professor emeritus at the Sorbonne and former director of the Institut d’Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques de l’Université de Paris. His works include La Connaissance de la vie (1965), Le Normal et le pathologique (1966; translated as The Normal and the Pathological ), and Idéologie et rationalité dans l’histoire des sciences de la vie (1977; translated as Ideology and Rationality in the History of the Life Sciences ). Ann Hobart teaches in the department of English and the Program of Women’s Studies at Arizona State University and is a freelance translator. She has published several essays on nineteenth-century British fiction and social criticism.
With the death of Foucault, how could one not ask oneself the question: What could he have thought when, revived from his coma on the hospital bed where he had been rushed, he learned that he was at the Salpêtrière? The work in which he had taken a path that was supposed to lead him to others—but not elsewhere—Histoire de la folie l’âge classique, retraced the history of the successive functions of the Salpêtrière: arsenal, hospital, in fact a house of correction and of alms, directed by Pinel from 1795, made famous by Charcot from 1872 to 1889, frequented by Freud in 1885—Freud named by Charcot in an 1889 lecture on syringomyélie—and henceforth mentioned in every account of Foucault’s death on 25 June 1984.4 It is quite moving to note the insistence with which Foucault cites Freud in order to show how the psychiatry of the nineteenth century begun at the Salpêtrière had encountered on its historic course, at the Salpêtrière itself, the person who was supposed to demystify the structures of the asylum, with the exception of the medical practitioner. “The good genius of Freud had placed it at one of the critical points marked out for it since the eighteenth century by the strategies of knowledge and power.”5 Freud, inventor and model of antinormalization, who had conferred on psychoanalysis “the political credit … of having been in theoretical and practical opposition to fascism” (VS, pp. 197-98; HS, p. 150).
4. See Focault, Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (Paris, 1961). A much-abridged version of Histoire de la folie was published in 1964 and was translated into Englih by Richard Howard under the title Madness and Civilization: A history of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York, 1965).
5. Foucault, La Volonté de savoir, vol. 1 of Histoire de la sexualité (Paris, 1976), p. 210, hereafter abbreviated VS; trans. Robert Hurley, under the title The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (New York, 1978), p. 159, hereafter abbreviated HS.
On the misinterpretations and deviant usages that Foucault’s thesis on power has incited, there is a closely argues study by Robert Castel entitled “Les Aventures de la pratique,” published in a special issue of the journal Le Débat in 1986, after Foucault’s death.1 For my part, I believe that it is at the end of Histoire de la folie that one learns when and how psychiatry ceases to be in reality, under cover of philanthropy, a policing of madmen. It is with and through Freud. Foucault said of him: “Freud demystified all the other structures of asylums…. He transferred to himself … all the powers that had been dispersed throughout the collective existence of the asylum.”2 And fifteen years later, in La Volonté de savoir, Freud and psychoanalysis are praised once again for having, in rejecting the neuropsychiatry of degeneracy, broken with “the mechanisms of power” that pretended to control and manage the daily practice of sexuality. This stand immediately follows the pages in which Foucault has described the ways nd means of what he has called “biopower.”3 A quick reminder of these pages does not seem to me superfluous at a time when the French are discovering in their own country what biopower is capable of.
1. See Robert Castel, “Les Aventures de la pratique,” Le Debat, no. 41 (Sept.-Nov. 1986): 41-51.
2. Michel Foucault, Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (Paris, 1961), p. 611. A much-abridged version of Histoire de la folie was published in 1964 and was translated into English by Richard Howard under the title Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (New York, 1965), pp. 277-78.
3. Foucault, La Volonté de savoir, vol. 1 of Histoire de la sexualité (Paris, 1976), p. 185; trans. Robert Hurley, under the title The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (New York, 1978), p. 140.
Perhaps some day we will no longer really know what madness was. Its face will have closed upon itself, no longer allowing us to decipher the traces it may have left behind. Will these traces themselves have become anything to the unknowing gaze but simple black marks? Or will they at the most have become part of the configurations that we others now cannot sketch but that in the future would constitute the indispensable grids through which we and our culture become legible? Artaud will belong to the foundation of our language, not to its rupture; the neuroses will belong among the constitutive forms (and not the deviations) of our society. Everything we experience today in the mode of a limit, or as foreign, or as intolerable will have returned to the serenity of the positive. And whatever currently designates this exteriority to us may well one day designate us.
Only the enigma of this exteriority will remain. What was, then, this strange demarcation, one will ask, that was at work from the heart of the Middle Ages until the twentieth century and possibly beyond? Why did Western culture cast from its field that in which it might just as well have recognized itself, where in fact it had recognized itself obliquely? Why has it formulated so clearly since the nineteenth century, but in a way already since the classical age, that madness was the truth of the human laid bare while nevertheless placing it in a space, neutralized and pale, where it was as it were canceled? What was the point of collecting the texts of Nerval or Artaud? Why discover oneself in their utterances and not in themselves?
Michel Foucault (1926-1984) held the chair of the History of Systems of Thought at the Collège de France. Four volumes of his writings, entitles Dits et ècrits, have recently been published. Peter Stastny is an associate professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is currently editing a book on social relationships and recovery. Deniz Şengel is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at New York University and reader in cultural studies at Bosphorus University.
There is a political problem here of a very straightforward kind. I find it difficult to say what my relationship to the Marxist tradition is because, in Mrs Thatcher’s Britain, the popular press puts down any form of radicalism as Marxist. If I can give one illustration. Four or five years ago I was with my daughter, and we stopped the car and went for a walk in an Oxfordshire wood. And we had our dog with us, who’d seen a pheasant. Fortunately we got the dog back on the lead when the gamekeeper came along with a gun. He said this wood was owned, not by a Lord now, but by some huge banking or investment institution, and we were trespassing and so on and so forth. As a deferential Englishman I was about to retreat. Unfortunately my daughter turned out to be a freeborn Englishwoman. She started to give him quite a lot of sass about civil rights and the law of trespass. Whereupon the gamekeeper said, ‘What are you then, Marxists?’ In a situation like that, no one is going to deny they’re a Marxist.
E. P. Thompson was one of England’s foremost historians and social critics. He is the author of The Making of the English Working Class (1963), Customs in Common (1991), Witness against the Beast (1993), and many other works. Thompson’s collection of essays on the English romantics is scheduled for publication in the fall of 1995.
Christopher St. John Sprigg (Christopher Caudwell) was killed in action, forty years ago, on 12 February 1937, on the Jarama River, covering with a machine-gun retreat of his fellows in the British battalion of the International Brigade. He was then twenty-nine years old. He was unknown to the intellectual world, even of the Left. All his significant works—Illusion and Reality, Studies in a Dying Culture, Further Studies, The Crisis of Physics, and Romance and Realism—were published posthumously.
All these works were written in two years, 1935-36, years in which his output also included poems and short stories (mainly unpublished), freelance journalism, and detective novels. He also joined, at the end of 1935, the Poplar branch of the Communist Party, and took an active part in branch life.
There was also, throughout this period, a voracious ingestion of new reading. Caudwell was ‘self-taught’; he had left school (for journalism) before he was fifteen, and he was never exposed to formal advanced education.
Much has been written about the purely instrumental view of theory, the positivism, verificationism, and pragmatism unambiguously asserted in those pages that Valéry dedicated to science and philosophy. He remarks that today’s physics is made to avow that “the noun electron, for instance, can only mean in positive terms the whole set of devices and actions required to produce to our senses such phenomena as we may observe.”8 The rest has only, can only have, a verbal reality: “The rule is quite simple: Where there is nothing that can be observed, nothing that can be verified—there is only, can only be, verbal games—theology, philosophy, psychology—verbal games, a few images no doubt, but which are not consciously such” (C, 1:564). The recent evolution in physics completely confirms, in Valéry’s view, that change in direction which increasingly tends to replace the claim of knowledge with a mere growth of power:
The appearance of the theory of energy and of the supplications of statistical computations to physics marks an epoch of the mind. For these theories confirm that the claim to know the physical universe in itself has been given up, and they make manifest the resignation to replace knowledge with power. The point is no longer to enter the privacy of things but rather to limit oneself to their finite, that is, sensible and tangible—or computable—manifestations. [C, 2:851]
Thus do we arrive at the famous line: “Science is the set of procedures that are always successful, inasmuch as they can be put in order and described”(C, 2:852). All the rest, Valéry sometimes concludes, is literature. In order not to make his philosophy of the sciences even more disputable than it already is, we must note that he never suggests that science can only contain a collection of approved procedures or recipes. He is perfectly aware that it always contains much more than that and much more diverse things, too, without which it could not exist and from which it is not truly separable. Still her thinks that what is science proper in it reduces exactly to this.
8. Valéry, “Discours aux chirurgiens,” Oeuvres, 1:921.
Jacques Bouveresse is a professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne, University of Paris—I. Among his many works are L’Homme probable: Robert Musil, le hazard, la moyenne et l’escargot de l’histoire (1993), Hermeneutique et linguistique: Suivi de Wittgenstein et la philosophie du langage (1991), and Philosophie, mythologie et pseudo-science: Wittgenstein lecteur de Freud (1991). Christian Fournier, a specialist in American literature, is currently translating Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays into French. Sandra Laugier, who teaches philosophy at the University of Rennes, is the author of L’Anthropologie logique de Quine: L’Apprentissage de l’obvie (1992). Together they have translated several works by Stanley Cavell.
The existence of an impressive body of feminist work on sexuality does not mean that any substantive progress has been made toward the formulation of a feminist sexuality. In the intervening years since the question of women and sexuality was raised in the context of the 1980s “sex wars,” the concept of a feminist sexuality has gradually dropped off the agenda as feminism has split into multiple and sometimes competing feminisms. We have witnessed how dogma for one group has become an ideal for another. So the question of a feminist sexuality has gradually dropped off the agenda as feminism has split into multiple and sometimes competing feminisms. We have witnessed how dogma for one group has become an ideal for another. So the question of a feminist sexuality inevitably recalls the history of the deep divisions within the feminist movement, reminding us of feminism’s own moment of political correctness in the early 1980s. Reconsidering feminist political correctness is also a way of returning the concept to the Left, understanding, of course, that the term comes back to us with the negative inflection is has taken on as a result of the contemporary PC debates.4 Yet, since the contemporary debates appear to have left out this feminist episode, it seems important to remind ourselves (before the Right does) that in most recent history, the feminist test of “correctness” had to do with our own sexual practices.
4. For one of the best explanations of the way discourses are disarticulated and rearticulated to political ends, see Stuart hall, “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media,” in Silver Linings: Some Strategies for the Eighties, ed. Rosalind Brunt and George Bridges (London, 1981), pp. 28-52.
Jane Gaines is associate professor of literature and English at Duke University. Author of Contested Culture: The Image, the Voice, and the Law (1991), she is currently working on a book on early cinema and postcolonial theory titled Other Race Desire.
Born in 1930, Robert Fernández Retamar is a distinguished Cuban poet, literary critic, and essayist whose work had been closely connected with the trajectory of the Cuban Revolution. His work has been translated into English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and German among other languages. He has been a professor at the University of Havana since 1955. He has also taught as visiting professor at Yale University and lectured widely in the United States and Europe. He is president of the Cuban cultural institution Casa de la Américas, whose journal he has edited, with a brief hiatus, since 1965.
Throughout his career he has occupied a number of different positions: from diplomatic posts, such as cultural counselor of the Cuban embassy in Paris, to coordinating secretary of the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers and director of the Center for the Study of José Martí in Cuba.
Along with the Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal and the Chilean Nicanor Parra, Retamar is considered one of the founders of the “conversational poetry” movement in Latin America. His many books of poetry include Vuelta de la Antigua esperanza (1959); Cuaderno paralelo (1973); and Circunstancia y Juana (1980). In 1989, a selection of his poetry was published in Spain under the title Hemos construido una alegría olvidada.
Goffredo Diana is a teaching fellow in the department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. He is completing a dissertation on testimonials and new social movements and has done research in Cuba in Casa de las Américas. John Beverley is professor of Hispanic languages and literatures and of cultural studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author, most recently, of Against Literature (1993).
It is the depersonalization of exchange within capitalist society that depoliticizes economic power, no matter how close capitalists and politicians may become. The point of market exchange is the null point of social community. Marx noted in the Grundrisse that in traditional societies exchange occurred at the boundary between communities; seen in this light, he argued, capitalist society is “unsocial.”5 Georg Simmel later countered in The Philosophy of Money that the lived experience of this loss of traditional community was liberating because money exchange sets limits to mutual obligation, thereby limiting society’s claim on the individual.6 Under capitalism, no matter how bureaucratic the organization, such points of market indifference—and therefore of individual freedom—are productive of the very fabric of society. Under Soviet socialism, in contrast, a person’s indebtedness was “infinite,” even (indeed, especially) for Party members; because symbolic social exchange—social obligation and sacrifice—was conceived to be without limits, it was transformed into “a monstrous technology of domination.”7
6. See Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, trans. Tom Bottomore and David Frisby, 2d ed. (London, 1978).
7. Ivaylo Ditchev, “Epitaph for Sacrifice, Epitaph for the Left” (forthcoming):
According to the official doctrine of the Stalin-era, the present generation had to be sacrificed for the one to come…. [A Party member was] infinitely indebted … ready … at any moment to organize, to put into practice, to rouse enthusiasm, to be the avant-garde and the model for the rest[:] … modest … ‘collectivist’ … [without] privacy and selfishness.
See also: Susan Buck-Morss, Hegel and Haiti
Susan Buck-Morss is professor of political philosophy and social theory at Cornell University. Her books include The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (1989) and The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute (1977).
The predicament of leftist intellectuals, like myself, working in capitalist society has been that, politically, their principled critique of capitalism was being advanced in a hypothetical mode, since long before the collapse of the socialist societies in the East, capitalist society in the West had shown no lasting signs of moving in a Marxist direction. There may have been times when such a move seemed more likely than at others—the four revolutionary years after the First World War, the decade of the Great Depression, the “Cultural Revolution” of 1968-73, for example—but it did not come to pass. Still, throughout these years, a substantial critical culture has perpetuated the more or less emphatic belief in a Marxist course of history over and against all appearances to the contrary. This steady voyage of left-wing cultural critique through the world-historical rapids—now precipitated in the falls of cold war’s end—always had to steer a course between the Scylla of intellectual sacrifices to Communist Party doctrine and the Charybdis of vacuous speculations on revolution and utopia. In the realm of artistic culture, it has had some guiding stars—images such as Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Walter Benjamin’s “Angel of History”—whose political interpretations were continually being adjusted according to historical circumstance. The events of 1989-91 have brought this ideological trajectory into focus. It has become apparent that the progressive ideals ascribed to such icons of the Left don’t jibe with their original circumstances and intentions. Their historical revision becomes the vehicle for a political critique of the distorted dissident culture of the Left in capitalist society to which they belong, not in order to withdraw the dissent, but to advance it with a greater stringency.
O. K. Werckmesiter is the Mary Jane Crowe Distinguished Professor of Art History at Northwestern University. His latest books include The Making of Paul Klee’s Career, 1914-1920 (1989) and Citadel Culture (1991). His books-in-progress are The Political Confrontation of the Arts: From the Great Depression to the Second World War, 1929-1939 and Icons of the Left, which will include the present essay.
Here are a few things theory knows today.
Or, to phrase it more fairly, here are a few broad assumptions that shape the heuristic habits and positing procedures of theory today (theory not in the primary theoretical texts, but in the routinizing critical projects of “applied theory”; theory as a broad project that now spans the humanities and extends into history and anthropology; theory after Foucault and Greenblatt, after Freud and Lacan, after Lévi-Strauss, after Derrida, after feminism) when it offers any account of human beings or cultures.
1) The distance of any such account from a biological basis is assumed to correlate almost precisely with its potential for doing justice to difference (individual, historical, and cross-cultural), to contingency, to performative force, and the possibility of change.
2) Human language is assumed to offer the most productive if not the only possible models for understanding representation.
3) The bipolar, transitive relations of subject to object, self to other, and active to passive, and the physical sense (sight) understood to correspond most closely to these relations are dominant organizing tropes to the extent that the act of dismantling them is framed as both an urgent and an interminable task. This preoccupation extends to such processes as subjectivation, self-fashioning, objectification, and Othering; to the gaze; to the core of selfhood whether considered as a developmental telos or as a dangerous illusion requiring vigilant deconstruction.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick is the Newman Ivey White Professor of English at Duke University and the author of Epistemology of the Closet (1990), Tendencies (1993), and a volume of poetry, Fat Art, Thin Art (1994). Adam Frank is a graduate student in the Department of English at Duke University.