Last lecture of the semester: Foucault and Derrida on Madness

Tonight. Below I go over the debate between Foucault and Derrida after a whole semester in which I taught their texts on crime and punishment, but not this particular debate. It’s been a great class. And obviously, anything below is a trying out of certain ideas.

Final Lecture: Differences of Method

This will have been an act of madness: to wait until the last class, in its final hours, to redescribe the relation between Foucault and Derrida in terms of their quite critical debates across 30 years of a limited number of writings. To have read them thus far, side by side, not even concerning the very issues confronting them in those debates (most particularly a few short passages in the opening paragraphs of Descartes Meditations), but instead spending a semester on crime and punishment and the abyssal relation between the two. All then to pass it off to you as a jury to rule over this debate, to the point where you might render one oeuvre or another incorrigible, that is, not correctable and thus redeemable only through the sanctification of the death penalty. (Is this the limits of all sovereign power, though? It dreams that it could render a death to a set of works or an oeuvre, to call an end to all traces of a life, even as its traces live on. Martyrdom and thus the Christian heritage we have been discussing lives on precisely this way. There is, indeed, no Christianity, indeed more widely, there is no oeuvre itself that does not live on this way.) And all while speaking to you like a prosecutor who doesn’t give you the evidence itself (the texts) but merely a description of them, and thus mediating any judgment you could possibly render. In any event, let me, as quickly as possible, set out the bill of particulars, all before coming to a decision, or more particularly, how the notion of the decision plays out in this (non)debate between Foucault and Derrida. The dossier for this trial of sorts would be the following:

  1. Jacques Derrida, “Cogito and the History of Madness,” collected in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (U. of Chicago Press, 1978). In this essay, first given at the Collège Philosophique in March 1963, with Foucault in attendance, and first published the same year, Derrida calls Foucault’s History of Madness—a massive exploration of the title topic going over 670 pages and selling quite well for an academic book—an “intimidating” work that is “admirable in so many respects” (readers of academic debates know this is code for “I am about undermine your entire project”). The bulk of the essay concerns just three pages of Foucault’s work (published in 1961), a point that Foucault himself will find an annoying, picayune way to proceed. Foucault’s major claim in History is that, unlike previously, there was an “event” in modernity during which there was an expulsion of madness from European societies. Let me quote from the opening of his 1961 preface:

We need a history of that other trick that madness plays—that other trick through which men, in the gesture of sovereign reason that locks up their neighbor, communicate and recognize each other in the merciless language of non-madness; we need to identify this moment of that expulsion before it was definitely established in the reign of truth, before it was brought back to life by the lyricism of protestation. To try to recapture, in history, this degree zero of the history of madness, when it was undifferentiated experience, the still undivided experience of the division [of madness and reason] itself. To describe…[what] allows Reason and Madness to fall away, like things henceforth foreign to each other, deaf to any exchange, almost dead to each other. (my emphases)

Foucault’s claim is that this “falling away” happened at the origins of modernity (perhaps as the origin of modernity), and thus could not be found in the age of Socrates, where the “Greek Logos had no opposite.” When moving to the third chapter, which is to mark this event of the expulsion of madness (both from discourse and from public view), Foucault opens with the scene of Descartes in his Meditations, where we all know that Descartes argues for the reasons that he must doubt the senses and eventually metaphysical knowledge. (Recall that the senses trick us, we could be dreaming, there may be finally an evil genius tricking us at each turn, and so on.) Foucault’s claim is that the example of madness in Descartes is not just one among the other reasons for doubt, but is principally denied as possible for the meditator. I should note that Derrida’s own reading of this is quite traditional, which makes Foucault’s later suggestion that Derrida can’t read the text a bit over the top, at least to me, since Foucault’s claim would be that all previous interpreters have missed this point, which ironically, if there were a “classical age” that excludes madness tout court, then one would expect exactly that interpretation again and again [discuss]. For Derrida, madness is but one of these possible reasons for doubting the contents of the cogito, and this occurs when the evil demon enters and one must think all that one thought was reasonable was not so. In any case, Descartes is an example of the societal exclusion of madness that is to come, the event that would mark modernity in Foucault’s eyes. I won’t touch on their particular debate over Descartes, though there is much to both analyses: Derrida wants to upset Foucault’s neat “structuralist” discourse—Derrida uses that term to describe Foucault’s book—that would have all discourses of a period interlinked and repeating a certain inner rule. Deconstruction—and I will later argue there isn’t such a thing, just at there is no “genealogy”—operates, if it does at all, by demonstrating a certain Western heritage that moves through Western texts, while also showing that there is a future to these texts, that they can be taken up in multiple ways (which is of course how history happens). Thus Derrida will want to deny this supposed event, while also showing multiple means of reading a given text, thus disrupting the structure that Foucault is looking to identify. That is it to say, is this the only way to read Descartes? If not, then what does this suggest about a certain play within the epistemic rules that Foucault suggests are all-pervasive?

But Derrida’s text is more than just about this moment, and Foucault is wrong to assert in “My Body, This Paper, This Fire” (1972) that Derrida only focuses on these three pages, while ignoring the rest. This is how the back-and-forth between them is often read—over just those lines in Descartes. But Derrida opens “Cogito” with precise and charged questions directed against Foucault’s whole project. In fact, for twenty pages Derrida targets important questions for a book titled History of Madness (whether his critiques are right is another matter, but the questions couldn’t be more pertinent):

  1. Can one do a history of madness? Does not the concept of history itself belong to the historical othering, culminating in Hegel, that Foucault is identifying? And would not this preclude Foucault’s ability to “write a history of madness itself… by letting madness speak for itself…a madness before ‘being captured by knowledge’” (33-4). How does one write about what was not captured by knowledge? This comes all to the fore since madness is the site of a silence in the records of knowledge, unable to speak in history of reason and its march. But can one write a history of a silence? And how would this not speak for, within reason, madness? Is Foucault attempting to “return to innocence and to end all complicity with the rational or political order which keeps madness captive?” (35). One can escape this “historical guilt” perhaps [that is, the guilt that one is part of a process of othering madness], Derrida writes, by (1) following the madness down its path and thus be unable to write this history, or (2) give up a “history of madness,” since “the concept of history has always been a rational one” (36). It is the questioning of this metaphysical determination that Foucault should have done first: history is unthinkable outside a determination, the apotheosis of which, as Foucault well knew, is found in Hegel, where history is reason’s very unfolding; one could also cite Husserl’s later writings, and Derrida’s lecture at the time are on this question of how history is a metaphysical category. In short, one takes up a metaphysical philosopheme with the danger than one simply repeats its schema. Derrida’s claims, I think, are based on this passage in Foucault (I’m using the 2006 translation):

There is no common language: or rather, it no longer exists; the constitution of madness as mental illness, at the end of the eighteenth century, bears witness to a rupture in a dialogue, give the separation as already enacted, and expels from memory [my emphasis] all the imperfect words, of no fixed syntax, spoken falteringly, in which the exchange between madness and reason was carried out. The language of psychiatry, which is a monologue by reason about madness [thus F. will refuse to use this language, the language of psychiatry, which raises the question of what language he can use] could only have come into existence in such a silence. My intention was not to write the history of that language, but rather draw up the archaeology of that silence. (2006, xxviii)

Derrida is dubious about this—at best. He gets off a nice set of lines (even in the English translation): “The misfortune of the mad, the interminable misfortune of their silence, is that their best spokesmen are those who betray them best; which is to say that when one attempts to convey their silence itself, one has already passed over to the side of the enemy, the side of order, even if one fights against order from within it” (42). I think of these lines whenever I’m reading texts that testify to the supposed pre-archival or what must have remained silent in the tradition. One sees something of this in Agamben, parts of Heidegger, and Rancière’s writings on the insensible, or in fact, all manner of mysticisms that posit a secret outside of knowledge, which means, in perfectly good “deconstructive” logic, one must always betray what one wishes to witness, by speaking for what is not of the order of knowledge. To put this in the context of recent class discussions: this is why Derrida will posit the necessity of the conditional/unconditional relation, neither one without the other, since to posit access to the unconditional without conditions would mean absolving one of a given historical stance (one’s own conditions), denying that one is speaking for the unconditional in given conditions, and thus always betraying it—at the same time as these conditions are the only access to the unconditional.

In any case, Derrida’s claim is broader than just about a history of silence: Foucault’s depiction depends on having a prelapsarian period in which madness and reason were not separate discourses. That is, he argues that the Logos of the Greeks had no opposite in a pre-archival period prior to Socratic dialectics (Derrida doesn’t mention it, but we can think of all the figures in Socratic dialogues opposed to the proper Logos, and thus find the claim as odd), and in this Foucault repeats what Derrida calls a mystification of early Greece found in Heidegger for example, where there was a proper relation to the Logos before the intrusion of philosophy. (Incidentally, Foucault often chastised philosophers for positing such prelapsarian or “forgotten” periods, even though, as we saw, this is the thesis he develops in History, as well as his discussion of a time before the will to truth in early Greece in his 1970-1 lectures.)

Foucault’s avowed attempt to speak out of madness is ahistorical in that he wishes to speak in a “language more original” than after the rupture, a language where after the modern one would speak, in a way, pre-modernly, in such a way that “madness and non-madness, reason and non-reason are confusedly implicated in each other, inseperable as they do not yet exist, and existing for each other” (2006, xxviii) [discuss]. In any case, one would be reifying a proper, full presence of the Logos prior to its split, and this would, in any event, mean that modernity is the place of such a break. Derrida writes:

The attempt to write the history of the decision, division, difference runs the risk of construing the division as an event or a structure subsequent to the unity of an original presence, thereby confirming metaphysics in its fundamental operation. (39)

[Why decision, division, and difference here? I can’t find this terminology in Foucault, and Derrida seems to be relying on Heidegger’s use of Ent-scheidung, the decision that is a splitting and a differentiation (this usage is also in Schelling’s notion of the decision). Here I would beg a moment to work through the place Derrida must be referencing in the preface to the first edition of History [page numbers lacking since I was using a ipub version (and I want to thank for only having the 1964 abridged French)]:

From its originary formulation, historical time imposes silence on a thing that we can no longer [!] apprehend, other than by address it as void, vanity [check trans. Mirror?], nothingness. History is only possible against the backdrop of the absence of history, in the midst of a great space of murmurings [that is, those of the non-rational]… The great oeuvre of the history of the world is indelibly accompanied at every instance by an absence of an oeuvre [discuss what this means, something like ergon in the Greek—to have an order, a poiesis heading toward a telos], but which runs unaltered in its inevitable void the length of history: and from before history [!], as it is already there in the primitive decision [my emphasis], and after it again, as it will triumph in the last word uttered by history.

In sum, history gets underway as the result of a decision that it itself unhistorical, or must be unhistorical, since the decision is for history as the march of reason. (Thoughts welcome on this.)]

  1. Can one write a history of madness? Foucault argues that the Greeks had a relation to hybris, not madness, which would only come in the event, the decision of modernity. And yet, would not one have to know just what madness is to separate it from hybris (and it should be said, without beating up on Foucault, that hybris doesn’t function in the way he wishes). One would have to have it defined in order to see its first use, and thus one would have taken heterogeneous phenomena and labeled them, named them madness in order to perform this history, while taking for granted that this term has an invariable

Now is not the concept of madness—never submitted to a thematic scrutiny by Foucault—today a false and disintegrated concept, outside current and popular language, which always lags longer than it should behind its subversion by science and philosophy? [I will come back to this, but Derrida’s claim is to reverse Hegel and Marx’s claim about philosophers and history—the owl of Minerva always comes too late, that is, we are the last to take up an historical event. This will have import for Foucault’s rebuttal, since he argues that Derrida can only think from within philosophy.] Foucault, in rejecting the psychiatric or philosophical material that has always emprisoned the mad, winds up employing—inevitably—a popular and equivocal notion of madness, taken from an unverifiable source. This would not be serious if Foucault used the word in quotation marks, as if it were the language of others, of those who, during the period under study, used it as a historical instrument. But everything transpires as if Foucault knew [Derrida’s emphasis] what “madness” means…as if, in a continuous and underlying way, an assured and rigorous precomprehension of the concept of madness…were possible and acquired. (41)

As Derrida claims, though, madness is used as the negativity of the Logos and thus we are left to study the limits and fissures within a tradition within the West that makes Foucault’s discourse possible in the first place. In sum, despite the task of liberating madness that Foucault had in mind, all he can do is denounce that which his work can’t help but continue.

2) Michel Foucault, “My body, this paper, this fire” (1972): Appended to the second edition of History of Madness, this is Foucault’s long-awaited rebuttal to Derrida. It is a close reading of the same passages in Descartes cited by Derrida in order to show that Derrida fundamentally misunderstands the passages in question, not least by refusing to “think that the classical commentators missed, through inattentiveness, the importance and singularity of the passage on madness and dreaming.” Foucault goes on, though, that is wasn’t inattentiveness but rather that these commentators and Derrida belong to a “system”:

It is part of a system, a system of which Derrida is today the most decisive representative, in its waning light: a reduction of discursive practices to textual traces; the elision of events [in this case, the event of modernity as the reason/mad split] that are produced there [as such discourse is not just text but power/knowledge], leaving only marks for reading…I would not say that it is a metaphysics, metaphysics itself, or its closure, that is hiding behind this textualisation of discursive practices [here he has in mind the Derrida-Heidegger thesis about an epoch of metaphysics]. I would go much further: I would say that it is a historically well-determined little pedagogy [my emphasis], which manifests itself here in a very visible manner. A pedagogy that teaches the student that there is nothing outside the text [a notorious line from Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967)] but that in it, in its interstices, in its blanks and silences, the reserve of the origin reigns [of course Derrida’s claim about Foucault is that somehow madness is the origin underneath history, but in any case]; that it is never necessary to look beyond it, but that here, not in the words of the course, but in the words as crossing-out [here I think he’s referring to the crossing out of Being that Heidegger does and Derrida mentions in Of Grammatology], in their lattice, what is said the ‘meaning of being’. A pedagogy that inversely gives to the voice of the masters that unlimited sovereignty that allows it to resay the text.

3) Michel Foucault, “Reply to Derrida,” from Paideia 11 (1 February 1972): This is the more direct text, taking up what he says are three postulates on which Derrida assents:

  1. All knowledge and all rational discourse have a fundamental relation to philosophy. I’ll call this the Heideggerian thesis: that all roads lead back to some fundamental problem within metaphysics (the technicity of the modern era, the conformity of mass man, etc.). We’ll have to discuss this relation, since on matters such as the death penalty, Derrida does indeed bring his discussions back within not just philosophy, but a philosophical-Christian-theo-politics. More pertinently this means, for Foucault, that Derrida thinks that if he can bring out the implicit philosophy of a book and show it mistaken, then three pages will do critique the over 650 remaining pages of History of Madness.
  2. This second supposed postulate is a bit unclear in Foucault’s text. He argues that Derrida doesn’t look so much for fault of logic or reasoning but derides one for “averting one’s eyes from” philosophy, “by refusing its blinding light and attaching oneself to the singular positivity of things,” and thus if one can show an era in Foucault’s reading of Descartes, then like a Christian mortal sin from which one cannot turn back, the entirety of the work must be condemned: “Derrida supposes that if he shows an error regarding Descartes in my text…he will have shown the law that unconsciously rules everything that I could say about police regulations in the seventeenth century, unemployment in the classical era [etc.]” and thus he won’t have to show the relation between this “error” and the different fields of study. Again, if he can undermine a philosophical claim, then all falls to it. But it’s hard to know what this would make of Foucault’s project. He is indeed making claims about Socratic philosophy and Descartes. Now Foucault in this text will say this was a slip on his part—a bit leftover from his philosophical days to treat philosophy first, when he should have just deal with the historical period in question. Let’s come back to this point [or discuss it now] because it does seem to me that once one invokes a given set of terms (“history,” “reason,” etc.) one can’t help but invoke their meaning over a longer period, while also one can call into question if one can indeed write a history of silence, if one can make the mad the subject (in the first person sense) of a work, and so on. And this is an all-too-typical rebuttal to the philosopher—you are caught within your own discourses and logics, but I am speaking to the “positivity of things” (never mind that this “positivity” is a “silence,” a “negative,” namely madness). Otherwise one is left with blind empiricism: this happened, then this happened. Moreover, Foucault’s method is to presume that there is an episteme—structuralist at its core—that produces the knowledge of a given period, in this case, over the mad. This is a meta-historical claim, and Derrida’s task is to disrupt that claim. Why must he presume it? Because only one who is omniscient could know that all knowledge in a given period—every last scrap of text—is produced through a given set of rules. He must presume it and then come back from his examples to hope enough evidence is there.
  3. This is again akin to the Heideggerian thesis. In the text, Foucault doesn’t put this as clearly, but he essentially says this: if there is a Western heritage or tradition that we take over, that we can’t help but take over, and that produces us, then all we will ever get is a repetition of the same, and therefore no event is possible. Thus one would be naïve in thinking that such an event occurred and could occur again (Derrida does use the word naïve several times in his original essay), because marking that event means one doesn’t understand the repetition underway in your own discourse. Here is Foucault at his most scathing:

[F]or Derrida, there is no sense in discussing the analysis that I propose of this series of events [that is, the events that would be the separation of reason and madness, as well as the geographical incarceration of those deemed mad]…in his view [it is naïve] in wanting to write history on the basis of the derisory events that are the confinement of a few tens of thousands of people, or the setting up of an extra-judiciary State police; it would have been sufficient, more than amply so, to rehearse once against the repetition of philosophy by Descartes, who himself repeated the Platonic excess. For Derrida, what happened in the seventeenth century could only be a ‘sample’ (i.e., the repetition of the identical) or a ‘model’ (i.e. the inexhaustible excess of origin). He does not know the category of the singular event.

This is precisely the counter-complaint of Derrida: that Foucault himself, as a structuralist, makes a homogeneity of a given period and thus nothing new can be developed, say, within the modern period other than an alliance to some set of structures. That is, he can’t think the event. The irony, as we know, is that Derrida was nothing if not a thinker of the event, especially late in his career. But inasmuch as he did follow Heidegger in a certain view of Western metaphysics, he was forced to argue that indeed whenever we use “metaphysical terms” (history, subject, reason, etc.) we can’t help but bring along that heritage. Foucault goes further: he argues that this is a way for philosophy to present itself as the “universal criticism of all knowledge,” while endlessly engaged in an “infinite commentary of its own texts [that is, the history of philosophy] and without any relation to any exteriority.” In this way, Derrida reverses the order. Philosophy is subject to a given set of discourses; it is not that those other discourses adhere to some philosophical set of assumptions. Here’s Foucault:

What I have tried to show (but it was probably not clear to my own eyes when I was writing the History of Madness) is that philosophy is neither historically nor logically a foundation of knowledge; but that there are conditions and rules for the formation of knowledge to which philosophical discourse is subject, in any given period, in the same manner as any other form of discourse with rational pretention.

He then will call the discussion on Descartes the “most expendable part of my book,” given “my casual indifference towards philosophy.” And then, he spends the rest of this chapter going back over the Descartes citations to show that, no matter, he is still right in his reading, ending by arguing that Derrida can only think from within philosophy and therefore is the one who is truly naïve.

4) Jacques Derrida, “‘To do Justice to Freud’: The History of Madness in the Age of Psychoanalysis” (1991). This is a reworking of a 1986 presentation Derrida gave at New York University at a conference commemorating Foucault’s work. He then revised this paper (essentially the early paper suggested that Foucault has all these notions of separate powers, but then why does he use the term “power” for each of them? Is it one power or many?) for a 30th anniversary conference on the original publication of History of Madness. (One wonders if these conference organizers ever read what Foucault himself wrote about Derrida.) Derrida again and again says he won’t reenter in the debate, though in long parenthetical passages he shows he can’t help but do it. Derrida’ main point, however, is that Freud’s texts are too heterogeneous to fit within the idea of a silencing of madness (that is, place madness within the unconscious that cannot speak) that Foucault would have needed, and he cites Foucault’s divided claims about Freud to demonstrate a certain set of ambiguities. Oddly Derrida doesn’t mention a 1964 text, “La folie, l’absence d’oeuvre,” in which Foucault is more pronounced in showing that Freud is the last great thinker to finally expel madness from the citadel of reason.


In any case, there is the dossier. One could add that on republishing the History of Madness, now with these two appendices, Foucault sent them along to Derrida asking him to “forgive him for this too slow and partial response,” according to the biographers of both thinkers. In an Italian interview two years later, he described Derrida’s reading of the history of philosophy as “pitiful,” and the two most famous men in the new wave of French theory would avoid each other at conferences and would not speak for a long time (Derrida biography, 240). In 1981, while visiting dissidents in Prague, Derrida was arrested by the Czech police on trumped-up charges of importing marijuana. While Derrida was in jail, Foucault immediately took to French radio to demand his release, and soon they drew back into contact. Derrida himself is said to have been touched by a later invitation Foucault gave to him and his wife for an evening at his home, but Foucault died in 1984, ending any further rapprochement.


But perhaps here at the end of the course, let me, before passing this off to you and your own queries about the differences and repetitions between and among these two massive oeuvres (or perhaps, given Foucault’s points above, these are plus d’un oeuvre, more and less than a work), bring this back to considering that there cannot be any full confrontation between what gets called “Foucaultian genealogy” and “Derridean deconstruction,” since they do not, as such exist. There is no deconstruction. There is no genealogy, as both would claim. There is nothing to them, that is all. There is nothing to present to you as deconstruction, any more than genealogy, since to present them to you would be to reify a schema that both worked at great effort to show didn’t exist. The deconstruction itself is what arrives, is what is underway in given institutions, but it is not some “form” that can be removed from those readings, from those institutions, from their very historicity. And the same with genealogy. In this way, both are never present, and are always still to arrive, yet to come, there over the limits of what we thought we’ve known about these two set of discourses, which are as open to be read and reread—that is how all sets of texts have a future and thus a historicity—and thus open to a future. The verdicts have long been coming in about these two thinkers; so many have wished to have rendered a final death upon not just them, but their work, to remove all traces of their work in the academy and wider society—all to save some vaunted Reason or to protect the children from relativism and nihilism. Such a punishment would fit the crime one or the other, one and the other, would have committed to philosophy. To put their oeuvres to death, to remove all traces of them, even if such is impossible barring an apocalypse—an end of all traces, all memory. The task this semester was to think the sovereign dream of a certain death penalty, one that wishes to remove the bodily traces of the incorrible, the incorrectable, those who for whom the only just penalty is death, even if we no longer believe—at least I confess, I know longer believe, though in certain centuries, this very confession would have made me incorrigible—that justice comes from on high, that there is no gap between justice and the law, and that there is no gap between the law and its enforcement, or at least it does not come so easily as what we once thought was “on high.” Which means we must question every sovereigntism that acts as if its justice comes from on high, from a place outside of history, even as its calls to justice (for example, the nomenclature of the “rogue state”) is nothing but a play for power in the sordid give and take of a politics at the local, national, and international level. We were thus called to renew the question of the economism of crime and punishment and think again about its supposed necessity (that is, we cannot think it otherwise), even if every bit of it—from what is considered a crime to the changing institutions for “punishment”—is historical through and through. On this, Nietzsche is our tradition’s greatest political thinker, since once we can imagine a caesura between what is said to be a crime and an automatic punishment (not that it is ever automatic, but one must, if there is to be justice, follow the other), we can then mark those places where the punishments we hash out are the crime. Criminality on both sides of the legal order, both operating outside the law. Is this not what Benjamin meant by the state of exception? Let me cite from one more text and, alas, it’s one I should have assigned you (but that remorse is endless on the themes of this course), namely “Against Replacement Penalties,” written by Foucault in Liberation just prior to the abolition of the death penalty in September 1981:

To proceed on the assumption that every penalty whatsoever will have a term [that is, is finite and has a possible end] is to go down the path of anxiety—there’s no denying it. But it is also to commit oneself not to leave all the penal institutions in a state of immobility and sclerosis, as has been done for many years. It is to pledge oneself to remain on the alert. It is to make penal practice a locus of constant reflection, research, and experience [I assume, though I don’t have the French, that this is a translation of épreuve, meaning also a test], of transformation. A penal system that claims to exert an effect on individuals and their lives cannot avoid perpetually transforming itself. It is good, for ethical and political reasons, that the authority that exercises the right to punish should always been uneasy about that strange power and never feel too sure of itself. (Power, 461)

A strange power indeed, but one that never seems to feel surer about itself than at the moment of its punishments. What philosophical or psychological theory could ever explain the sovereign certainty needed at the very moment of a sovereign decision (to kill, to punish indefinitely, etc.) that must, if it is a decision, be groundless, abyssal, that is, anything but certain? Why in the sovereign decision is there what Sartre called bad faith, a mix of “this is what has to be done” with “this is what must, absolutely, be done.” The sovereign suffers no such existential anguish, at least sovereign.


This eminently correctable lecture, even if I have gone on forever and thus have been incorrigible, now comes to a head, that is, to a decision. I would put all the emphasis on the quotation that Derrida opens with in “Cogito and the history of madness,” a quotation he never discusses in the text [as far as I recall], though it becomes something of an epigram for all of his later writing on the “passive decision.” It is by Kierkegaard: “The moment of decision is madness.” It must be outside the norms of history, its rise of cause and effect, otherwise it would be reducible and thus not an event. At some point, wherever knowledge takes us, the aporia, as we saw in Derrida’s writings last week, requires a decision, which cannot follow machine like, or it wouldn’t be a decision. I won’t revisit these passages. But I wonder if the decision before you (before us) is between a thinking that requires a thinking of the decision, of the event that comes from the other, the non-sovereign decision, and a thinking that must remove the decision in order to think power/knowledge. Foucault throughout his later texts notes that he never meant that power was everywhere, or that power suffocates all chances for revolt: wherever there is power, he argued in many interviews of the late 70s and early 80s, there is the possibility of counter-moves and counter-positions. And when it came time to think a certain freedom, Foucault found it in the Greek notion of the “care of the self,” the relation of the self to itself, which must first be governed before a proper relation to the other. The self-self relation is thus prior to the relation to the other, and thus, whatever complications Foucault would give to it, still thinks of a remnant of a self prior to the other, prior to relations to the other, and all that means in terms of the power relations Foucault’s work always witnessed—a literally classical depiction of the ipse, of the autos able to step back from what had been in Foucault its conditions of possibility. A masterful self, and thus one who would never be mad, could not be mad, even in its decisions, even as those decisions are of the other in “me.” And thus without the rupture of the other, of the event, of the future to come. In an act of madness, whatever “I” would be, I would have decided otherwise.


  1. For some reason, I have had little contact with people even remotely interested in Derrida or Foucault. The students of Professor Gratton’s lecture are fortunate students indeed, and I am also. I have and continue to read Derrida and Foucault independently of any academic setting, so I am left to random devices to determine if my interpretations are even correct. Thanks to Professor Gratton for this lecture. At least now I know that my presumption of the static between Derrida and Foucault has been seen by somebody else.

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