I am a thinker and a writer, and I study the universe.

Madness is Reason…

This might be a contradictory sentence, but I have never heard of a more perfect notion of madness than what we find in Foucault’s Madness and Civilization. In the fourth chapter, “Passion and Delirium,” Foucault argues that there is a kind of reason in madness. If a man is actually made of glass, and glass is easily shattered, of course he is going to have to be careful when he touches anything, right? That is a reasonable response. Thus, if a man believes himself to be made of glass, but he actually is not, then the most reasonable thing for him to do is to avoid touching anything that might shatter him. And yet we call him mad, unreasonable, irrational, because he really is not made of glass.

Madness, then, is not altogether in the image, which of itself is neither true nor false, neither reasonable nor mad; nor is it, further, in the reasoning which is mere form, revealing nothing but the indubitable figures of logic. And yet madness is in one and in the other: in a special version or figure of their relationship.

Madness and Civilization, p. 95, Vintage edition

Foucault argues that this relationship between madness and reason is that of a dazzled reason. In the dictionary, to be dazzled is to be blinded because of a sudden bright light. Foucault says that madness and reason both see the same light, but madness does not think it sees that particular light, but only the darkness and the things in its imagination. This is the ultimate difference between madness and reason. Madness is not a lack of reason, nor is reason a lack of madness; but they are one and the same, but respond differently to the same light.

My brother is schizophrenic. At one time, he was obsessed with the notion that to be shy is to be mean. Because he was a very shy guy, he believed that he must be very mean as well. When I ask him why he thought so, he lent me his dictionary that, under the word ‘shy’, led to another word, which led to another word, which led to another word that meant ‘mean.’ There is a definite logic to this. After all, if a synonym of ‘shy’ could lead to a synonym that meant ‘mean,’ that must mean he is mean, right? (I tried explaining to him that some words had different meanings, but I’m not sure if he understood what I said, though he doesn’t think about that anymore anyway.)

But I understand exactly what Foucault is getting at. There is a definite logic to the madman’s madness. If he sees a man that he believes is the Devil, and the man curses him, of course he is going to believe that he is cursed. If he believes that there is a bomb on his person that would explode if he moves, of course he would stop moving and stay as still as he possibly can. What’s scary about this all is that we all believe in things; the trick is to ask yourself if that belief is true or false.

Perhaps we are all mad in some way.


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