Sunday, May 12, 2013

Foucault: Lectures at College de France, 1973–74 (Lecture 10–12)

In the beginning of his tenth lecture on psychiatry in the 19th century, Foucault suddenly feels the urge to "open a parenthesis here and insert a little history of truth in general" (p. 235). This turns out to be a theory that divides the conception of truth into two distinct historical categories, a procedural, scientific truth, and a mystical, revealed truth.

The Archeology of Knowledge as a Reduction

He explains:
So you have attested truth, the truth of demonstration, and you have the truth-event. We could call this discontinuous truth the truth-thunderbolt, as opposed to the truth-sky that is universally present behind the clouds. We have, then, two series in Western history of truth. The series of constant, constituted, demonstrated, discovered truth, and then a different series of the truth which does not belong to the order of what is, but the the order of what happens, a truth, theefore, which is not given in the form of discovery, but in the form of the event, a truth which is not found but arounsed and hunted down: production rather than apophantic. It is not a truth that is given through the mediation of instruments [in a wide sense, presumably], but a truth provoked by rituals, captured by ruses, seized according to occassion. This kind of truth does not call for method, but for strategy. (p. 237)
A paradigmatic example of the truth-event is the confession under torture during the inquisition (p. 240) as opposed to the weighing of evidence against evidence according to certain standards of proof.

He further explains that one of the points of his intellectual project is to
show how this truth-demonstration […] derives in reality from the truth-ritual, truth-event, truth-strategy, and how truth-knowledge is basically only a region and an aspect, albeit one that has become superabundant and assumed gigantic dimensions, but still and aspect or a modality of truth as event and of the technology of this truth-event. (p. 238)
In addition, "Showing that scientific demonstration is basically only a ritual […] is what I would call the archeology of knowledge" (p. 238). So there we have that.

The Hiddenness of Heidegger

In an almost hysterically elliptical remark, Foucault non-quotes Heidegger:
There are those who are in the habit of writing the history of truth in terms of the forgetting of Being, that is to say, when they assert forgetting as the basic category of the history of truth, these people place themselves straightaway within the privileges of established knowledge, that is to say, something like forgetting can only take place on the ground of the assumed knowledge relationship, laid down once and for all. Consequently, I think they only pursue the history of one of the two series I have tried to points out, the series of apophantic truth, of discovered, established, demonstrated truth, and they place themselves within that series. (p. 238)
That's probably the most direct criticism of Heidegger you'll find in the whole corpus of Foucault — but even here, it takes the shape of a somewhat indirect stab at what "some people say." It's almost like he is the One Whose Name We Must Not Speak.

Hysteria as a Counter-Strategy

Just a quick comment on the last two lectures in the series (11 and 12): In these lectures, Foucault is mainly concerned with presenting a theory about the sudden surge in cases of hysteria in the late 19th century.

His hypothesis is that patients, once they realized that doctors relied on them to produced stable somatic symptoms, started to derive pleasure from experiencing this power over the doctor. Of course the doctor was still the one with most of the power, but the neurological patient had an option which the incarcerated madman did not have: the option of choosing what the disease was "about" — for instance, by having a paralysis after a work accident.

Foucault illustrates the strategies of the doctor and the patient, respectively, with the following little script:
"Obey, keep quiet, and your body will speak." So, you want my body to speak! My body will speak, and I really promise you that there will be much more truth than you can imagine in the answers it will give you. Not, certainly, that my body knows more about it than you, but because there is something in your injunctions that you do not formulate but which I can clearly hear; a certain silent injunction to which my body will respond. (p. 305)
The point here is of course that the next logical step is that the patient can start having symptoms that will drag the doctor inadvertently into the sphere of sex. Thus, after the invention of the "neurological body" allowed the doctor to normalize symptoms like psychosomatic paralyses, the hysterics would shift towards an even more radical blurring of the line the medical and the existential spheres.

As he says on the very last page (p. 323), the doctors now had two options: Admit that hysteria wasn't a disease proper, or admit that sexuality also belonged to the medical sphere. In the long run, the second option won out, as we know. Thus "the hysterics, to their great pleasure, but doubtless to our greater misfortune, gave rise to a medicine of sexuality" (p. 323).

This does seem to shed some further light on the point of the whole course: I could be read as a genealogy of the notion of medical knowledge about sexuality. I don't know what to say exactly to Foucault's hypothesis about hysteria, but then again, it's not like we already have a perfect theory of what it is that went on in those consultations of Charcot back in the late 19th century.

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