New Scull essay

Joseph Kugelmass has a new essay on Scull’s review of History of Madness (unfortunately it’s x-posted which means that comments on it appear in two places–1 post is enough guys!).

Anyway, Kugelmanmass entitles his piece “debunking Andrew Scull.”

The review is quite good but will probably not change the minds of the participants in this battle. This is why a good history-based seminar or day-long conference is needed on all this, as I’ve called for before.

A correction regarding a claim about this blog: Joseph claims I said that Scull seeks to discredit all of Foucault’s work. I never said this. I have cited Colin Gordon who has said in print that Scull is “blackening” Foucault’s name. I have no idea what Scull’s motivations, scholarship or “intent” may be with regard to “all” of Foucault ‘s work, and I don’t think anyone else can from the review alone.

Joseph then says:

In fact, the entry at FoucaultBlog shows a curious unwillingness to defend Madness and Civilization.

If this is “curious” (see a previous entry!) then let me say that the History of Madness (the actual title) is outside my area of expertise, and I am loath to comment, defend, or contextualize Foucault’s (or anyone else’s) historical veracity of a book in dispute outside my area. This is why we’d need the day-long conference. Too many people these days are willing to express themselves on subjects about which they know little, and I try to avoid that.

I note that Kugelmass himself adopts as his blog-motto the Wittgenstein phrase “whereof we cannot speak we must pass over in silence.” There you have it.

If people are interested in what I find useful about Foucault’s work then I certainly invite them to read my publications. But I don’t insist that other people “must” use Foucault, nor that Foucault cannot be wrong factually, or that Foucault is some kind of alpha and omega.

(In fact Kugelmass is a bit generous to Foucault about the ship of fools. Foucault discusses its literary and metaphorical role, but also says that they must have “been quite a common sight” (p. 9) in the Middle Ages.)

Here is the end of Kugelmass’s review, which I found powerfully stated:

Scull may be right that the real historical conditions in mental institutions did not always match the rhetoric of the age. He calls Foucault out as a fortunate deceiver, “cynical” and “shameless,” and hints darkly at Foucault’s effect on “people’s lives.” But if we have learned anything from Foucault, and from his predecessor Nietzsche, it is that certain kinds of ideological errors react with material histories, and alter them. To treat the lot of Foucault’s textual criticism of madness as nothing – that is pure, indefensible ideology. It endeavors to silence Foucault, and restores to us a good conscience we have done nothing to deserve.

6 Responses

  1. Jeremy,

    Er, Kugelmass, not Kugelman.

    It’s true that I may have overstated your reading of Scull, with reference to this line: “The fact that the TLS review of Foucault’s History of Madness is still being picked up by various people and used to reject Foucault tout court shows why a review is not just a review but a political intervention.”

    It was a bit obscure to me how you linked this “political intervention” with Scull’s intention, or even with the rhetoric and context of his article, leaving intention out of it. You seemed to be arguing that the intervention was such that it would produce and seem to justify wholesale dismissals.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with that; I just don’t think we can blame it on Scull’s text.

    The Valve and The Kugelmass Episodes have different and largely non-overlapping readerships, hence the cross-posting. Personally, I’m happy with people linking to the WordPress site if they want to link only one. It’s easier for me to follow trackbacks from there.

    Anyhow, thanks so much for the link. The idea of a conference on Foucault is certainly appealing. Where? Organized by whom?

  2. Er, Kugelmass, not Kugelman.

    Very sorry! How about Joseph?

    Scull’s essay was used in a variety of ways, some of them productive, many of them to justify a previously-held rejection of Foucault (google Scull and Foucault for examples).

    A conference would be nice. How about a 1-day event at Emory University in Atlanta? Thomas Flynn could host it!

  3. Yes, Joseph’s cool with me. Agreed about Scull’s reception.

    Man, is that the wrong coast when I’m all out of travel grants, as now. Can we have it over here? Less humidity…

  4. I think this response bows much too much to what Foucault was opposed to: the reign of the expert. I’m no expert in Scull’s subject matter at all, but I think I can safely dispute his numbers even on Bedlam, which he should know more about, his reference to Foucault’s own references, and his nitpicking about small details. And you can too. One of the exciting things about Foucault’s work is that he shows what happens when experts use their aura of knowledge to exert their authority – and following the logic of power, soon base their knowledge on their authority. This is exactly what happened in the case of Scull. And it is amazingly easy to expose it. I’ve done some of that here: http://limitedinc.blogspot.com/2007/05/
    sculls-fun-and-factoids-or-foucault-in.html. I’d encourage people to do it yourself. There is no need to scurry away from any of the claims Scull disputes in Foucault’s 1961 book. It is really rather pathetic the way Scull is simply given a pass for saying, for instance, that Bedlam, at its peak, had 50 inmates. What nonsense.

  5. […] 3rd, 2007 by Jeremy I’m pulling out a comment below because I think it makes a great point: why the instant concession to […]

  6. […] New Scull essay […]

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