Derrida, Foucault and Cogito

The overall approach of Derrida is on Cogito and the history of madness. Derrida starts his analysis based on Foucault’s reference to Descartes’s Meditations (Foucault 1965, 184-187, Derrida 1978, 32). Philosophical dignity has nothing to do with madness and insanity, they do not have entrance into the philosopher’s city (Derrida 1978, 32). By its essence Cogito cannot be mad.
Derrida offers an analysis of Foucault’s interpretation of Descartes and interrogate some presuppositions of Foucault’s history of madness (Derrida 1978, 33). Foucault reads the Cartesian Cogito within the framework of the history of madness. Foucault’s attempt to write a history of madness as madness speaks on the basis of its own experience and under its own authority (Derrida 1978 34). Madness is linked to silence (‘words without language,’ ‘without the voice of a subject’) and the language of reason is rejected. According to Foucault the history of madness is an archeology of a silence (Derrida 1978, 35). Derrida argues that such a history or archeology of silence cannot be written. No one can speak against the order of reason except by being for it; the concept of history has always been a rational one (Derrida 1978, 36).
But such a book was written by Foucault, that is why, we need to see its particularities. Silence is not non discourse, but a discourse arrested by command (Derrida 1978, 38). Foucault goes after the origin of the split between reason and unreason (madness) and their free circulation and exchange. Reason and unreason are at the same time an act of order, a decree, and a schism, a separation (Derrida 1978, 38). The common root of reason and unreason/madness is a logos, a unitary foundation (Derrida 1978, 39). This logos is also the very atmosphere in which Foucault’s language moves (Derrida 1978, 39). The heart of the matter is that reason can have a contrary, an other of reason (Derrida 1978, 41). For Foucault the concept of madness overlaps everything that can be put under the rubric of negativity (Derrida 1978, 41). The structure of this exclusion is for Foucault the fundamental structure of historicity. The moment of this exclusion does not have archetypal exemplarity (Derrida 1978, 42).
If this great division is the possibility of history itself, what does it mean to write a history of this division? (Derrida 1978, 43) Is it to write the history of the origin of history?
Foucault interprets the text from Meditations as the philosophical internment of madness (Derrida 1978, 44); this is a prelude of the historical and sociopolitical drama. It is an act of force. That is why, to write a history of madness means to execute a structural study of a historical ensemble (notions, institutions, juridical and police measures, scientific concepts) which holds captive a madness whose wild state can never in itself be restored (Derrida 1978, 44).
Philosophy from Descartes onwards is the system of certainty that functions to inspect, master, and limit hyperbole, and does so both by determining it in either of a natural light whose axioms are from the outset exempt from hyperbolic doubt, and by making of hyperbolical doubt a point of transition firmly maintained within the chain of reason (Derrida 1978, 60). Someone philosophizes only in terror, but in the confessed terror of going mad. The confession is simultaneously, at its present moment, oblivion and unveiling, protection and exposure (Derrida 1978, 62).

Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization, a History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Share
blog comments powered by Disqus