COGITO AND THE HISTORY OF MADNESS
These reﬂections have as their point of departure, as the title of this lecture1 clearly indicates, Michel Foucault’s book Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique.2
This book, admirable in so many respects, powerful in its breadth and style, is even more intimidating for me in that, having formerly had the good fortune to study under Michel Foucault, I retain the consciousness of an admiring and grateful disciple. Now, the disciple’s consciousness, when he starts, I would not say to dispute, but to engage in dialogue with the master or, better, to articulate the interminable and silent dialogue which made him into a disciple-this disciple’s consciousness is an unhappy consciousness. Starting to enter into dialogue in the world, that is, starting to answer back, he always feels “caught in the act,” like the “infant” who, by deﬁnition and as his
name indicates, cannot speak and above all must not answer back. And when, as is the case here, the dialogue is in danger of being takenincorrectly-as a challenge, the disciple knows that he alone ﬁnds himself already challenged by the master’s voice within him that precedes his own. He feels himself indeﬁnitely challenged, or rejected or accused; as a disciple, he is challenged by the master who speaks within him and before him, to reproach him for making this challenge and to reject it in advance, having elaborated it before him; and having interiorized the master, he is also challenged by the disciple that he himself is. This interminable unhappiness of the disciple perhaps stems from the fact that he does not yet know-or is still concealing from himselfthat the master, like real life, may always be absent. The disciple must break the glass, or better the mirror, the reﬂection, his inﬁnite speculation on the master. And start to speak.