Introduction to Madness

The family’s gone. So I thought I’d pick up some light reading. I frequently gravitate toward the philosophy section of the bookstore, and it was there I came upon the book Madness, The Invention of an Idea by Michel Foucault (Foulcault, M. translation: Sheridan, A.   Madness, The Invention of an Idea. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2011 – originally French edition published 1954).

It wasn’t the lightest of reads. In fact, I found myself looking up one word after another to make sense out of what I was reading.

I don’t claim to fully understand Foucault’s position at the moment, but his book provoked some thoughts in me. Foucault asked some basic questions in the introduction: 1) what are the conditions that allow one to discuss illness in the psychological domain? 2) what is the relationship between mental illness and organic abnormalities?

To address mental pathology, one must define it. However one cannot define an abnormal condition unless one can define the normal condition. This in itself seems an impossible task. For example, what is the scope? Should we consider a population such as the children of Lake Wobegon, who are all above average?  What about the tribe deep in the rain forest who asked a doctor visiting from outside the region, to look at one of their children. They were worried about him. “His urine is yellow,” they said, “not the normal red like the rest of us.”

This is not an insignificant issue.

There is also a problem in mapping a correspondence between an organic cause and a mental disorders. Foucault used the ‘hysterical syndrome’, defined at the end of the 19th century, as an example of a disorder that had no organic basis.

Foucault’s goal

Foucault notes that the same meaning is applied to etiology, symptoms and ideas of illness in mental pathology and organic pathology, and has the following goal for his book:  “I would like to show that the root of mental pathology must be sought not in some kind of ‘metapathology,’ but in a certain relation, historically situated, of man to the madman and to the true man.” (see reference above)

I hope I can stick with Foucault long enough to understand his entire thesis.

One thought on “Introduction to Madness

  1. Pingback: Mental Health Monday: A Special Tuesday Edition | A Way With Words

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