Foucault (1963), “The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception”

“This book is about space, about language, about death; it is about the act of seeing, the gaze” (ix). Foucault begins by describing Pomme’s treatment of a female hysteric, who he directed to take bath lasting ten to twelve hours for ten months. As result, her skin peeled off along with the intestines. The destroyed parts of the intestines emerged from the rectum. Also, the tongue and the “oesophagus” peeled. The outcome was vomiting and expectoration. In another episode, about one hundred years later, offers an explanation of a lesion on the brain; “they are white, grey or red in color, and occasionally, yellow, brown, or black”. Here’s the difference and change. Pomme spoke about the hysteric using fantasy term. While the second example, from Bayle, “directs our gaze into a world of constant visibility” (x).  The idea of the “gaze” develop as a meticulous and measured separation of the patient’s body and identity. Modern medicine develops in the final years before the end of the eighteenth century. As a result, the idea of humorous and biles is dropped for a more “concrete understanding”. “At the beginning of the nineteenth century, doctors described what for centuries had remained below the threshold of the visible and the expressible, but this did not mean that, after over-indulging in speculation, they had begun to perceive once again, or that they listened to reason rather than to imagination; it meant that the relation between the visible and invisible—which is necessary to all concrete knowledge—changed its structure, revealing through gaze and language that had previously been below and beyond their domain” (xii). What results, is the ability to see  and say. In conclusion, Foucault states his intent, this “is a structural study that sets out to disentangle the conditions of its history [that is medicine] from the density of discourse” (xix).

/Full Text of Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception review.

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