Foucault’s work, for all intents and purposes, was staunchly antil establishment. Better known as PostModernist in its attempt to preserve classic definitions while subverting and elaborating upon them.
“The History of Madness is an inspiring and classic work that challenges us to understand madness, reason and power and the forces that shape them. ” (http://www.routledge-philosophy.com/books/History-of-Madness-isbn9780415477260)
Foucault’s asks his readers to understand mental illness as a hypothesis created and recreated throughout history to satisfy the powers that be, and to justify the reasoning of their minds. He asks profound questions, disturbing the status quo of the times. Basic questions such as: Why were the lepers freed to have their place in history taken by the insane? Questions upsetting for those having attempted, and in most cases succeeded, in silencing the upset and outraged sick.
In terms of historical approaches, Foucault views the timeline creatively, with shifts and breaks. With leaps of learning and completely, if not totally non linear; much, it appears, like the misunderstood minds of the mad.
Foucault’s voice spoke to a generation. His PostModernist views alleviate a burden of guilt belonging to the practitioners within the field of Psychiatry. With a sympathetic ear and a passion in his area of expertise, Foucault freed, in thought, many ailing and captive minds bordering on psychosis due, in part, to the barbarics of a system with a history of violence towards its patience.
Words, for Foucault, were the means to identify something. Not the means to address the thing itself the way it truly exists but the way to label and project meaning onto said person or thing. Beneath the “discourse” lay the true identity. Devoid of hype, beneath the surface, lay the simplified facts. He felt the interaction spoke to the mechinations of the individual.
Foucault prefers the term “author function” believing that discourses speaks through us and that language is alive. He further asserts that the author speaks in depth, where he intended to speak lightly. That is to say the role of language is to express more than the vehicle intends. His work with the mentally ill has provided him with the proof that profound discourse within the misunderstood expressions of the mentally ill, exists where one might otherwise not suspected. One might go further in making the assumption that the patient is misdiagnosed or essentially misunderstood because the patient uses a seemingly strange language where the truth lies beneath the maze of madness he/she expresses.
Foucault remarks that “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its power and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality” (216) Hence the number of mental institutions with the aims of subverting power posessed by a minority whose language is unguarded by censor and unhinged in the minds of the masses
“there is a tendency today to understand the body and disease in terms of the discourses of genetics and Darwin’s theories of evolution. Even when the evidence suggests that genetics doesn’t explain everything–as, for instance, when clones do not turn out exactly the same as the genetically-identical parent, or when not all females are “feminine,” or when creatures who are nearly genetically identical develop differing behaviors or social structures–geneticists tend to continue to look for explanations in genetics rather than developing a new theory (discourse) that would credit a combination of agents (genetics plus environment, for instance). Furthermore, genetics is seen to explain all behavior. Hence the field of sociobiology, which attempts to account for all human behaviors, including moral and ethical thinking as well as social roles and structures (subordinate females and dominanat males) through genetics. The limits of the discourse–the very discursive nature of the discourse–are obscured, and its truths seem to exist independent of the discourse” (http://www.ic.arizona.edu/ic/mcbride/theory/539fou.htm)
Every discourse, of its age claims reason. And in retrospect every discourse may be discredited and found depraved. This is like the language of madness. Non linear, making sense in isolation, perhaps even in the grander scheme of things but when immediately examined, appearing non sensical. A sense of certainty prevailing over the ages, as it does in the minds of the mad. One piece here sound, another there unfounded.
Being a student of PostModernist thought, Foucault experienced madness, albeit as a physician, as a vertical archealogical equation. With depths assigned to the language of madness. Like in the work of Paul Austers, in The New York Trilogy, the author, Paul Austers, writes of an author, for example Quinn. They perhaps exist to experience the same environment. But with blurred boundaries between author and character this is an example of what can be proclaimed psychosis in literature, albeit from the PostModernist perspective. The author, Paul Austers, becomes indistinguishable from God. He acts all powerful in the creation and destruction of his characters. His characters, writers like he, and the reader not aware of where the truth is beginning and ending in life. Foucault’s premise of the author function leads one to question Auster’s sanity. He speaks volumes, perhaps unintentionally. When the idea of saying what is unintended is addressed in literature, we turn a fresh eye to a work of depth, like this one that borrows from other well known oeuvres. A collage of greatness where a word like ‘i”reverberrates for archealogical depths, perhaps as it might sound, upon analysis, coming from the mouths of the mad.
Beginning in the work of St Augustine, who’s work The City of God gives birth to the first in the Trilogy: The City of Glass. We perceive depth. Like a stone in a lake, at first causing a ripple on the surface, then slicing the waters before reaching the deep, the mind though full of madness must be examined from a non linear perspective, with the intent to find the something in the archealogical deep.
In Auster’s first installement of the New York Trilogy one might question the necessity for depth of understanding, and misunderstanding it misread the deeper meanings, thus finding the work “insane” however with a mind to see, we then do.
“The term held a triple meaning for Quinn. Not only was it the letter “i,” standing for “investigator,” it was “I” in the upper case, the tiny life-bud buried in the body of the breathing self. At the same time, it was also the physical eye of the writer, the eye of the man who looks out from himself into the world and demands that the world reveal itself to him. (p 4 The City of Glass)
The mad speak a supposed language of linear gibberish. When art is the mode of expression the sentiment or presentiment becomes crystal clear in its non linear beauty. Art, to be dissected, to be examined in depth, to be valued and prized in the eyes of the most civilized, when the artist is silenced is worthless without a medium and misunderstood. The truest artists are the mad, censored for they speak out, unashamed of ridicule. A thing of beauty, a joy forever, becomes a distraught tangled mess of miscommunication, when not given the right language to speak. Worse yet when no attempt is made to understand what they have been saying. Foucault believing that where power exists, struggle follows has seen that the freedom of speech allotted to the madman or artist is at first challenged, then quieted.
There is a depth of beauty in a VanGogh. A deeper meaning in his art, giving reason for his celebrated greatness. Foucault has aimed to mine the depths of the minds of the mad, like posterity has found a gift in VanGogh’s demise. Foucault embraced the darkness, in order to see the light. He was searching for truth in the dark nights of the mad soul; finding in it a language, where ignorance had heard but strange utterances.