Thursday, November 22, 2018

Was Foucault an anti-psychiatrist?

John Iliopoulos in his book History of reason in the age of madness, which I have mentioned in a previous post, has a chapter entitled ‘Is Foucault an anti-psychiatrist?’. As I said in my book chapter on ‘Historical perspectives on anti-psychiatry’, Foucault’s Madness and civilisation is included in anti-psychiatry because Foucault is said to have viewed the Enlightenment as oppressive.” Actually, I think Iliopoulos’ position is correct that Foucault was neither for or against the Enlightenment.

As Iliopoulos says, Foucault stresses he was ignorant of anti-psychiatry at the time of writing History of madness. Iliopoulos corrects the position of post-psychiatry (see previous post) that “Foucault is engaged in an anti-psychiatric endeavour using counter-Enlightenment discourse” (p.101). Instead, Foucault accepted the validity of the anthropological project of the late eighteenth century with its descriptive diagnostic approach to madness. Where psychiatry went wrong was its positivist reduction of mental illness to brain disease in mid-nineteenth century. In Iliopoulos’ words:-
[T]he subjugated, disempowered status of current psychiatry authority and the value-laden and pseudo-scientific definition of mental illness are not the result of the infantile epistemological level of psychiatry, its axiological nature or its inherently coercive role, but the product of a new, all-encompassing rationality denying and suppressing the anthropological kernel of psychiatric discourse. (p.98)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Reading Foucault’s History of Madness

Jean Khalfa, in his Introduction to his edited edition of Michel Foucault’s History of Madness, says that the book “has yet to be read”. Certainly I haven’t made an attempt to read it until of late. I have been too influenced by the “cursory caricature of Foucault’s work”, to which, as Colin Gordon suggested, even Roy Porter was prone (see Gordon’s review of History of Madness). Andrew Scull’s TLS review has been particularly misleading about the value of Foucault’s work (see, again, Gordon’s response to Scull). Even R.D. Laing’s enthusiastic reader’s report (see image above) for publication of the abridged version, Madness and Civilisation, may have given the wrong impression. Gordon wonders whether Scull has really read the book and Laing’s brief report (I presume this was all he submitted), again, makes me wonder whether he even read the abridged version.

Laing was right, nonetheless, that this is “an exceptional book of very high calibre”. As Gordon says, the book “is the work of a young genius, a work of masterful accomplishment and prodigious and prodigal energy, grasp and daring”.  More needs to be made of it (see previous post).