In one of his most discussed pensées, Pascal writes: ‘Men are so inevitably
mad that not to be mad would be to give a mad twist to madness.’ This
is what Foucault recalls in his preface to the first edition of History of
Madness in 1961. He also quotes Dostoyevsky: ‘It is not by locking up
one’s neighbour that one convinces oneself of one’s own good sense.’
As we shall see, Sloterdijk, too, refers to Dostoyevsky, whom he presents
as being the great thinker of, precisely, disinhibition.
It is starting from these references to Pascal and Dostoyevsky that,
at the beginning of his preface, Foucault presents reason in the classical
age in its relation to madness as a ‘trick that madness plays […]
through which men, in the gesture of sovereign reason that locks up
their neighbour, communicate and recognise each other in the merciless
language of non-madness’. Let us measure the scope of this statement:
at the origin of reason in the classical age, there would lie a ‘trick played
by madness’ [tour de folie]. The history of madness in the classical age
would not just be, therefore, that history during which reason enclosed
madness, locked it up, and treated it as unreason: it would also be the
history of this classical reason as a kind of madness, as a new form
of madness – and it could be seen as preliminary to a ‘new form of
barbarism’ that will not occur until three centuries later, eventually
unfurling itself fully after yet another century, that is, after 11 September
2001, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, which will also be the
latest period of the Anthropocene, and as the age of disruption, that is,
as absence of epoch.
This perspective, however, opened by Foucault in the preface to the
first edition, is not explored any further in the body of the text.
My own thesis is that this ‘trick of madness’ that would be reason
must now be rethought as that which leads to the Anthropocene, to
disruption, to transhumanism and to the various forms of barbarism
in which all this consists – including with the ‘neo-barbarians’, as
the radicalization of this new form of madness that ‘classical reason’
would have borne within it, and as its ὕβρις. It is in this way – that is,
otherwise than Foucault himself – that, today, we should read History
of Madness.
What leads to this kind of questioning is that ‘man’, who today is
certainly no longer ‘modern’ (which does not mean that he would be
‘postmodern’, or that what is covered by the latter would adequately
describe his present situation), ‘man today’, who is obviously no longer
at all classical (but the classical age is in Foucault an epoch of the
‘modern age’, so that the latter, in this regard, would instead constitute
an era – inclusive of the first two epochs of industrial capitalism), this
man becomes mad, even in his everyday life,25 and he does so through
the unfolding of an ‘ordinary madness’ that is quite extra-ordinary
with respect to the history of madness, especially as Foucault conceives
it.
Contemporary everydayness becomes crazy and even requires madness
while at the same time denying it – we all feel it, outside ourselves and
within ourselves. This exigency stems, in particular, from disruption, if
it is true that madness is an expression of the absence of epoch, that is,
the impossibility of producing collective protentions.
We know that ὕβρις, which is thus carried to a point that is truly incandescent,
could become fatal to the great adventure of hominization, that
is, to this technical form of life that appeared some two or three million
years ago. We also know that the technical form of life, having become,
as globalization, generalized and uniform anthropization, ultimately
constitutes the geological era referred to as the Anthropocene. But we
know it in a mode that does not recognize it, by abandoning ourselves
to denial.

The Age of Disruption
Technology and Madness in
Computational Capitalism

Bernard Stiegler

 

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