Mental Illness and Psychology


Reading Michel Foucault’sMadnessmade me feel stupid. Then smart. Then stupid again. Then smart for a little. Then okay. Then stimulated. Then relived to finish.

I don’t know much about Mr. Foucault but apparently he’s written extensively about what contemporary Americans would call mental health issues but he calls (at least in translation) Madness. I’m not offended. Getting offended about his terminology would be stupid. A quick search indicates Foucault wrote at least one other book on the su Reading Michel Foucault’s Madness made me feel stupid. Then smart. Then stupid again. Then smart for a little. Then okay. Then stimulated. Then relived to finish.

I don’t know much about Mr. Foucault but apparently he’s written extensively about what contemporary Americans would call mental health issues but he calls (at least in translation) Madness. I’m not offended. Getting offended about his terminology would be stupid. A quick search indicates Foucault wrote at least one other book on the subject (Madness and Civilization or The History of Madness, depending on the edition, apparently). I’m not sure where this shorter work fits contextually but from what I can tell the first edition of Madness was a precursor to Madness and Civilization while the revised publication followed a year after the publication of Madness and Civilization. This book (uh, the one I’m reviewing) also was published previously as Mental Illness and Psychology. Got that straight? Good.

Anyway, I’m relieved answering essay questions on the first hundred pages of Madness was not required. Foucalt writes some LONG sentences, with many clauses, and I had to re-read a few pages over to create meaning beyond the skim level. And every now and then he’d say something like, “And those three points summarize the Freudian approach to physiological organic treatment.” And I’d be, like, “What the fuck? Three points? Let me go back. No, I see two. Wait, now I see four. Three? Which point do I drop?” I was quite proud when I could identify the correct three points. Were I studying Madness I wouldn’t even bother reading before class. I’d wait until after the class’s conversation to read. That’s not to say the first hundred pages of Madness are not a worthwhile read. Wading through the text is a noble and stimulating struggle. I’ve not read a book in years that contained this many words I’ve never seen before. The first hundred pages focus primarily on the definition and origins of madness along with descriptions of both its treatment and societal context. I think. He argues against framing madness as a regression into childhood. I don’t know anyone who would believe the assertion that madness is a regression into childhood. Remember, this book was last revised fifty years ago. So even someone with only a rudimentary understanding of psychology recognizes the dated nature of the analysis. I’d love to hear Foucault’s take on psychiatric medication, etc, but he’s dead, so I can’t.

Foucault switches gears in the last forty pages to the point where I felt like I was reading a different, and much more interesting, book. He analyzes the way mad (and I should clarify that he seems to be usually talking about severe mental illness, not garden variety depression) people have been treated, included and excluded, etc. in European society over time. And he argues that only through the presence of madness can man identify the normal. I think.

“If carried back to its roots, the psychology of madness would appear to be not the mastery of mental illness and hence the possibility of its disappearance, but the destruction of psychology itself and the discovery of that essential, non-psychological because nonmoralizable relation that is the relation between Reason and Unreason.”

Yeah. What he said. There are no typos in that sentence. I double-checked. Pg. 124.

I don’t regret reading Madness. The experience was a hell of a neurological workout. I wouldn’t read more Foucalt, however, unless the book was more like the last 40 pages and less like the first 100. I feel guilty for not wanting to do the hard work associated with the first hundred pages, but I’d read the last 40 pages again. So Madness is a cool little book with a whole lot of intellectual energy packed into its thin profile. But if I had to read another Foucault book I’d buckle down and face the text as a grim task that would be good for me. Sometimes I like reading books that make me feel that way. Sometimes I don’t. Madness seems like a short introduction to Foucault’s work, and that was good enough for me, for now. …more

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