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“Ship of Fools / Car of Idiots”, The Far Side Gallery 2, by Gary Larson, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1986, p. 9. © Gary Larson.

The Far Side Gallery 2 “Ship of Fools / Car of Idiots” by Gary Larson, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1986, p. 9. © Gary Larson.

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The madman, understood not as one who is sick but as an established and maintained deviant, as an indispensable cultural function, has become, in Western experience, the man of primitive resemblances. This character, as he is depicted in the novels or plays of the Baroque age, and as he was gradually institutionalized right up to the advent of the nineteenth-century psychiatry, is the man who is alienated in analogy. He is the disordered player of the Same and the Other. He takes things for what they are not, and people one for another; he cuts his friends and recognizes complete strangers; he thinks he is unmasking when, in fact, he is putting on a mask. He inverts all values and all proportions, because he is constantly under the impression that he is deciphering signs: for him, the crown makes the king. In the cultural perception of the madman that prevailed up to the end of the eighteenth century, he is Different only in so far as he is unaware of Difference; he sees nothings but resemblances and signs of resemblance everywhere; for him all signs resemble one another, and all resemblances have the value of signs. (The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences by Michel Foucault, tr. unknown, Routledge, 1989, p. 54)

Here’s the original French version:

Le fou, entendu non pas comme malade, mais comme déviance constituée et entretenue, comme fonction culturelle indispensable, est devenu, dans l’expérience occidentale, l’homme des ressemblances sauvages. Ce personnage, tel qu’il est dessiné dans les romans ou le théâtre de l’époque baroque, et tel qu’il s’est institutionnalisé peu à peu jusqu’à la psychiatrie du XIXe siècle, c’est celui qui s’est aliéné dans l’analogie. Il est le joueur déréglé du Même et de l’Autre. Il prend les choses pour ce qu’elles ne sont pas, et les gens les uns pour les autres; il ignore ses amis, reconnaît les étrangers; il croit démasquer, et il impose un masque. Il inverse toutes les valeurs et toutes les proportions, parce qu’il croit à chaque instant déchiffrer des signes : pour lui les oripeaux font un roi. Dans la perception culturelle qu’on a eu du fou jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, il n’est le Différent que dans la mesure où il ne connaît pas la Différence; il ne voit partout que ressemblance et signes de la ressemblance; tous les signes pour lui se ressemblent, et toutes les ressemblances valent comme des signes. (FOUCAULT, Michel (1966). Les Mots et les choses, éd. Gallimard, coll. Tel, Paris, p. 63.)


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