Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Foucault - Birth of the Asylum

Foucault, Michel. “Birth of the Asylum.” From Madness and Civilization; A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.

Foucault attempts to describe what it means to be mad. He concludes that madness consists of some blend of a lack of awareness of the self as defined against the Other and a resulting disregard for the consequences of actions on others in society. Thus, to cure madness is to impose respect for authority. This has morphed into an asylum, where punishment is used not as some arbitrary event but as a clearly connected consequence to an action. Madness is like childhood - a conception of extreme liberty, and the mad must be taught that punishment may follow actions. They thus learn to respect the authority of those mitigating a consequential punishment. With the asylum, societies goal for madness went from containing to treating. Space went from closed to open; the mad were allowed greater access to the outdoors and freedom of movement.

Through silence, the madman is confronted with his own extreme liberty in solitude. Through the use of the mirror, the madman is further revealed to his self. Finally, the madman must understand that he is constantly being judged on all sides, and thus he must restrain his own liberty. Onto these three is also added the medical personage, the supreme expert who is positioned as an elite to the patients.

Foucault concludes by arguing Freud imagined the psychiatrist as a collection and embodiment of silence, mirror, and judge.

Foucault's overall project is to explore mechanisms of power in society: prisons, asylums, etc, thus revealing how power is expressed.

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