My Photo


Roll Call

Become a Fan

« Welcome to Acephalous Identity Publishing | Main | Point of Record: »

Tuesday, 03 April 2007


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Warden Will See You Now, Mr. Foucault:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

J.S. Nelson

These comments confirm all my suspicions about diehard Foucault fans.


I've never read Madness and Civilization and probably won't have time to read the new edition. So I can't comment that much on Scull's review. But I do have one or two nagging questions about it.

Scull takes Foucault to task for his methodology and use of dated sources. Which would be no problem if we were talking about a book written recently. But this is a book from the late 50s/early 60s. It therefore predates much of the development of archival research for social-cultural history (much of the social history before the advent of the 'New' social history in the mid 1960s that I've read was based on printed sources). And I really find myself wondering: c.1960 what 20th-century historiography was there on the subject? There may be tons of it now (not least by Scull himself), but what was available to Foucault then? I can't think of anywhere in the review that Scull suggests what Foucault *should* have been reading instead of these outdated authors. We now know their deficiencies - but were they so apparent when Foucault was using them?

It's one thing to say that an old book's methods and sources have not survived the passage of time; that's the fate of many works of history. It's quite another to accuse the author of shoddiness and cynicism *at the time of writing*, without giving some evidence of what would have been not shoddy 50 years ago. In other words, I suppose I feel that Scull fails to historicise Foucault. And that's what's nagging at me.

Jonathan Dresner

I'm not entirely sure who the "his" is in your last paragraph, but the rest of it's pretty good. The only thing wrong with a "shot across the bow" is that it's a waste of good powder when you have a kill shot at hand.

Scott Eric Kaufman

First, I apologize for the other comments, but I'm having some difficulties with my TypePad account and can't rid the thread of them.

Now, on to important matters:

Sharon, the problem with Foucault's reluctance to cite any twenty century sources is that it demonstrates his lack of engagement with contemporary historiography. This wouldn't be a problem, except for the fact that what his lack of citations actually entails is his refusal to engage the Annales school in any way, shape, or form. What we're dealing with here is a reluctance to reconceptualize. Granted, my sympathies lie more strongly with Braudel and his bunch, but I'm also a fan of Foucault, so this post was written with a more-than-normal amount of begrudgedness.

In other words, what I think Scull's failing to say is that there're a couple of traditions into which Foucault doesn't fit; and that, instead of countering them point-by-point, or even acknowledging their existence, he chooses to write his history as if none had ever come before. I'm as much for ex nihilo as the next guy, so long as it's legitimately from nothing ... and I'm increasingly convinced Foucault isn't.

I'm cheating here a bit, since I've read -- as I'm sure you have -- material not cited above pointing to the thinness of Foucault's historical researches, but you catch my disillusioned drift here. I'm a reluctant critic, all things considered, because I want to believe that I can produce the kind of account he describes, but, out of what I can only believe is laziness in the face of the genius pressures, he fails to live up to.

Jonathan, that's a terribly written final couple of sentences there, and if I could change them right now, I would; but I am referring to Foucault there (however ambiguously) ... so I think we ought to continue this conversation in more detail, as I think there's an interesting methodological discussion to be had. More later, as right now I need to deal with some obvious and loathsome hackers ...

The comments to this entry are closed.