Sunday, March 7, 2010

Exploring Michel Foucault: A Wikipedia Search

Search: Michael Foucault

Did you mean? Michel Foucault

Yes. Click.

Heading: Madness and Civilization

Surface Level: This was Foucault’s first book. It focuses on madness/treatment of the mad.

Deeper: He notes transformation of ‘madness’ into ‘mental illness’. Semantics are everything. He argues that though this seems like a big shift, the treatment for mental illness at the time was cruel.

Heading: The Birth of the Clinic

Surface Level: Foucault’s next book, it looks at the medicine and teaching hospitals.

Deeper: Again, Foucault zooms in on discourse. He talks about “regard (translated by Alan Sheridan as ‘medical gaze’)”. Normally this medical gaze is limited to medical facilities, but Foucault asserts that it’s spread and effects the population at large. Clinical discourse created paradigms that defined populations. (Think: Stephen Gordon in Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness. Medical discourse clearly affected and dominated her perception of herself. Immediately she identified with this clinical text, and it became a part of her identity.)

Heading: Death and The Labryinth

Surface Level: Foucault’s book about the literature of Raymond Roussel, an experimental writer.

Heading: The Order of Things

Surface Level: Foucault asserts that conditions of society determine its discourses about what is acceptable, and that these conditions and there fore discourses and norms change. The book begins with a discussion of Diego Velazquez’s painting Las Meninas. He describes in detail the painter’s “complex arrangement of sight-lines, hiddenness and appearance.”

Deeper: Presumably the painting serves as a metaphor for society’s layers and “sight-lines” which determine discourse and what is socially acceptable. Thinking about painting/art as a metaphor for language can be helpful also in thinking about change. It’s much more apparent how graphic art has changed than the more subtle changes that language has undergone, but it is these changes that govern. (An example of medical discourse governing the population: the DSM denoted homosexuals as “sick” until 1973. Much like transsexuals today, who have to accept diagnoses of gender dysphoria, accept that they’re “sick” or “abnormal” before they’re allowed to have a surgery to reconcile their physical bodies with their gender identities.)

Heading: The Archaeology of Knowledge

Surface Level (which is, in this case, very deep): The truth and meaning of language is derived not just from words, but from how those words fit into larger discourses. “Statements constitute a network of rules establishing what is meaningful, and these rules are the preconditions for propositions, utterances, or speech acts to have meaning.” In other words, unlike structuralists, Faucault thinks that words create disourse which allows for meaning and truth--words have to be understood within the context of a certain time period/social era. (Conversely, structuralists think meaning comes from strict semantics.)

Heading: Discipline and Punish

Surface Level: Foucault looks at modes of punishment and asserts that “visibility is a trap” through which society exercises its control over individuals. He famously, talks about Jeremy Bentham’s “Panopticon” and his own idea of “power-knowledge”. Power-knowledge, significantly links the concepts of power (of the institution) to knowledge (about the individual), which is achieved through visibility/surveillance via government workers like police and teachers.

Heading: The History of Sexuality

Surface Level: Book one attacks the repressive hypothesis: says instead that people were “incited to discourse.” The second two books talk about sex in ancient Greece and Rome.

No comments:

Post a Comment