History of Madness

Now available in paperback

Foucault’s first major work, published in France in 1961, has only now become available in a complete English version. In it Foucault describes the medicalisation of insanity in Early Modern France, arguing that madness as a concept is socially embedded, not to be considered in isolation from the technologies that have been put in place to control, contain and treat it.

Peter Barham writes:

Readers who have to rely on an English translation have had to wait almost four decades to get their hands on a complete version of Folie et déraison. In important respects the new translation does not disappoint: this is a much subtler, less sensationalist Foucault of 14 chapters as against nine, with numerous other missing sections added, and a wealth of detail on a variety of topics, from the conflict between a tragic and a critical understanding of madness in the Renaissance, to the punishment of the venereally infected in the 17th century (‘sufferers from venereal diseases will only be admitted after correction has been carried out, and after they have been whipped’). All this is strangely reassuring in the face of Foucault’s more fantastic speculations and the broad sweep of his ambitious project.

(LRB 8 March 2007)