Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age by Michel Foucault

By Michel Foucault

Probably the French philosopher's masterpiece, that is enthusiastic about a unprecedented query: What does it suggest to be mad?

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The symbol of madness will henceforth be that mirror which, without reflecting anything real, will secretly offer the man who observes himself in it the dream of his own presumption. Madness deals not so much with truth and the world, as with man and whatever truth about himself he is able to perceive. It thus gives access to a completely moral universe. Evil is not punishment or the end of time, but only fault and flaw. A hundred and sixteen cantos of Brant's poem are devoted to portraits of the insane passengers on the Ship: there are misers, slanderers, drunkards; there are those who indulge in disorder and debauchery; those who interpret the Scriptures falsely; those who practice adultery.

Police, in the precise sense that the classical epoch gave to it—that is, the totality of measures which make work possible and necessary for all those who could not live without it; the question Voltaire would soon formulate, Colbert's contemporaries had already asked: "Since you have established yourselves as a people, have you not yet discovered the secret of forcing all the rich to make all the poor work? " Before having the medical meaning we give it, or that at least we like to suppose it has, confinement was required by something quite different from any concern with curing the sick.

And the same with death itself. This is what Eustache Desbchamps prophesies: We are cowardly and weak, Covetous, old, evil-tongued. Fools are all I see, in truth. The end is near, All goes ill . . The elements are now reversed. It is no longer the end of time and of the world which will show retrospectively that men were mad not to have been prepared for them; it is the tide of madness, its secret invasion, that shows that the world is near its final catastrophe; it is man's insanity that invokes and makes necessary the world's end.

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