Monday, September 15, 2008

Scull, Andrew. "The Fictions of Foucault's Scholarship." TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT March 21, 2007.

Foucault, Michel. History of Madness. Foreword by Ian Hacking. Ed. Jean Khalfa. Trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa. London: Routledge, 2006. [The recent and full translation of Focault's Folie et deraison.] The back cover of History of Madness contains a series of hyperbolic hymns of praise to its virtues. Paul Rabinow calls the book “one of the major works of the twentieth century”; Ronnie Laing hails it as “intellectually rigorous”; and Nikolas Rose rejoices that “Now, at last, English-speaking readers can have access to the depth of scholarship that underpins Foucault’s analysis”. Indeed they can, and one hopes that they will read the text attentively and intelligently, and will learn some salutary lessons. One of those lessons might be amusing, if it had no effect on people’s lives: the ease with which history can be distorted, facts ignored, the claims of human reason disparaged and dismissed, by someone sufficiently cynical and shameless, and willing to trust in the ignorance and the credulity of his customers. . . (,,25347-2626687,00.html) Colin Gordon's response "Extreme Prejudice": Scull was . . . engaged in the 1980s . . . in blackening Foucault’s reputation by manipulative misquotation, and this review unfortunately shows that his methods have not changed. Scull tries to present Foucault as saying, implausibly, that English psychiatric asylums were established in former monasteries. A reader who tracks down this citation (page 56 in the translation) will find that Foucault is in fact referring to foundations of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses of correction in England and Germany. Foucault nowhere asserts, as Scull implies, that all or most insane people in early modern Europe were incarcerated in such institutions. The primary targets of the seventeenth-century “Great Internment” which Foucault’s book famously describes were, as it makes clear, the idle poor. . . . (,,25390-2633037,00.html and, in greater detail,

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