Michel Foucault’s work in the 1960s is marked by two important works – The Order of Things and The Archaeology of Knowledge – but his research spans further topics. Among these, two are particularly interesting: his studies on the history of psychiatric thought from the Renaissance to Freud, and his work on literary works, which include two essays on Roussel and Blanchot. The psychiatric and literary experiences share a sense of being outside, a dehors, to use Blanchot’s expression, and each has its own way of doing it. The discourses of mentally ill people are considered to be outside of the space of Cartesian reason, that is, enlightened and positivist. A certain type of literature experiments being outside semantic schemes, as it pushes writing to its limits. From these two sides, Foucault experiments with the meaning of experiencing difference: the language of the mad and that of literary people are two different ways to bring to light an originary language, untamable, that is before any taking of the floor – any speaking out – happens. The study of madness, psychiatry, and its history, and in parallel with the study of a certain kind of literature, with its respective languages and discourses, meant, for Foucault, understanding what it means to be outside of the order of discourse widely considered reasonable.
Part of the book: Mind and Matter