Foucault slammed as cynical and shameless


When Foucault scholars get into the issue of Foucault’s scholarly accuracy, it is often because of articles such as this one, referring to the new edition of History of Madness:

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.

If you’re interested in this, compare with Colin Gordon’s review I linked to earlier.

Update. Here’s someone who takes the review cited above (it’s from the TLS) seriously:

What Scull does is demolish the factual basis upon which Foucault’s work rests- he goes after Foucault’s footnotes- it is a fine example of the way a thesis can be destroyed by a historian just going through the empirical work of examining the citations.

Updated II: The trouble with these negative reviews is that they’re eagerly picked up by the partisan culture-warriors such as the rather silly people at Butterflies and Wheels.


The most interesting thing to me is actually the comments section, in which a couple of fans (Foucaultheads?) accuse Mr. Scull of pedantically nitpicking. This in spite of the fact that he actually demolishes the central thesis of Foucault’s study in his article. You have to wonder what wouldn’t be seen as nitpicking in this case.


2 Responses

  1. […] 26th, 2007 by Jeremy People around web continue to pick up the negative TLS review cited in a previous post. The issue is how Foucault’s work should be read, granting that History of Madness contains […]

  2. Thanks for linking. I’m not entirely sure why I’m lumped in with the ‘partisan culture-warriors’, especially after a number of excruciatingly long posts criticizing both ‘sides’ in the culture wars and the culture wars as such. But, you’ve never read much of my blog, have you? Probably just linking to my linking. Okay. Alas, this is the nature of the Internet. I don’t mind being lumped in with the ‘silly’. But, for the record, I’m a grad student in early modern French/European history, and I’ve spent a great amount of time with Foucault and his footnotes, and my problems with him have a lot more to do with the professional and the pedantic than the political, which is where I have more in common with him.

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