Reading Foucault

Term: Spring 2012

Subject Code: GLIB

Course Number: 5321

Through a close reading of one major text, Madness and Civilization, this

seminar explores the problem of how to enter the imaginative universe of

a literary and philosophical work. Using essays by Jean Starobinski and

Borges as signposts, we begin by reading the (abridged) English translation

of Foucault’s masterpiece straight through. Afterwards, we briefly compare

one recent historiographic account of madness to that of Foucault’s book.

By raising doubts about Foucault’s concern for empirical accuracy, we raise

questions about the philosophical and literary subtexts of his work. In

order to clarify, we also read several contemporary essays by Foucault (on

Binswanger, and on the madness of Hoelderlin), and discuss literature and

art implicitly or explicitly aluded to in Madness and Civilization, including

Plato’s Phaedrus, Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly, Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew,

Sade’s Justine, Nerval’s Aurelia, Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, essays by Andre

Breton and Antonin Artaud, and paintings by Bosch, Goya, and Van

Gogh. Finally, we review some contemporary commentaries on Foucault by

Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot, and Jacques Derrida. At the end of the

course, we return to Madness and Civilization. Does the knowledge we have

acquired change our readings of Foucault’s masterpiece?


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