Freud Foucault And Society Essay, Research Paper
Aristotle once stated in Metaphysics that, “All men by nature desire Knowledge.” If one accepts the claim that knowledge is power, then it will be logical to assert that all people want power. The person or persons that have knowledge also acquire the power of that knowledge. In Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish he clearly shows the power-knowledge relationship that is prevalent in society both on the large and small scale, and how these affect society as a whole. Whereas, Sigmund Freud who has mastered the discipline of psychotherapy, which he uses to help others without this knowledge clearly demonstrates the power of knowledge. In Sigmund Freud’s Studies on Hysteria there are studies which show this use of power-knowledge to unlock problems in their mind creating the hysteria for which they suffer. These two authors use their power of knowledge in much the same way by bringing to light the problems that confront the individual. However, they both would have a different point of view on the use of this power.
In Discipline and Punish, Foucault looks to shock the reader and get the attention of the reader immediately with his depiction of torture and death at the outset. This has a compelling effect, and different uses of power. The first one being evident, that is the physical power. The other form of power is not so evident. It is the effect of this power on the mind of the individual. The punishment and extraction of information has gone from being a very physical and public ritual and evolving later to a private ceremony hidden behind walls, and consisting of mental torture. The individual wants to feel that punishment is carried out in some moral way. However, this way is not moral but simply a veil from society’s view. This way one can pretend it is not going on.
This book is intended as a correlative history of the modern soul and of a new power to judge; genealogy of the present scientifico-legal complex from which the power to punish derives its bases, justification and rules, from which it extends its effects and by which it masks its exorbitant singularity (Foucault P.23).
Even though the intended use of this power is to punish, it filters itself into everyday life and these turn out to be the rule which society is to live by.
Power in society according to Foucault is power to make people do things, not repress them. The first evidence of this power is within the family. The parents in a family have the power over their children. This is due to two reasons. The first is because they are physically more powerful. The second reason is because they have more knowledge. As an individual grows he/she gains more knowledge, through experience, which increases their power within the society. However, they still have very little of the power to get others to do what they want. The individual then goes to school where again they are confronted with the power-knowledge relationship. In this case the teacher/professor has the power, the student really is at their mercy. The student does what the teacher/professor says because the student knows that in order to advance in society they will have to continue to gain the knowledge to achieve the power. The teacher/professor is the key to that power. The way the individual is subjected to this power only changes when they have mastered a discipline.
We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations (Foucault P.27).
Are we making ourselves better off in society through the power of knowledge? There are some points we should take a look at: First, is enlightenment of power-knowledge a source of freedom or simply further incarceration? Education has been trying to teach the individual in hopes that he/she will help to better society through improved knowledge, but what one finds out is simply they are falling deeper into this trap of power-knowledge. Is the individual becoming more or less humane through becoming educated? It becomes clearly evident that as a society, we simply just put what we do not want to see behind physical or mental barriers, but that is not making us more humane. We are still imprisoned by these barriers. Second, has there truly been progress in forms of punishment throughout history? Society’s way of punishing the individual throughout history has definitely changed. Punishment has gone from horse quartering to life imprisonment, but can we say that one is better than the other is? Also, are human rights universal throughout society, or are they simply changing according to the rules which society sets for itself? Third, are we creatures of conformity? Society sets the standards to which we are constructed; the way we talk, how we act, etc…. This is what society calls “the norm,” that is how the people making up the society should behave. This led to the development of social statistics that constitutes the average. Therefore, what was once a decision about right and wrong, is now viewed as measurement of the amount of deviation from the norm. A perfect example lies within the United States criminal justice system. Instead of regarding murder as simply murder, law officials must determine what to what degree the murder was committed. This process will in turn decide how far from the norm the criminal’s behavior was and thus attach an appropriate punishment. Fourth, there is no salvation to be found in politics. Power is relations of force. Power is not a property, it is a relation. Therefore, it can not be equated with anything; it is dispersed throughout society. This simply means individual people are powerless within society. It is important to note that collectively however, people do potentially have a wealth of power. People in a society have different abilities that need to be recognized. The structure of politics will not change by substituting neither individuals nor entities within the structure.
The societal constraints we put on ourselves have resulted in both physical and mental complications. They can all be attributed to the mind’s inability to deal with these constraints. This is evident in the cases of Anna O. and Elizabeth Von R. When one falls out of the so-called “norm” they may develop a “defense hysteria” which could manifest itself into both physical and mental irregularities. Sigmund Freud through his mastery of psychotherapy helps those that have fallen out of “the norm” to return to a normal life.
In the case of Anna O., she is thoroughly distraught over the caring for her sick father. Freud must seek the answers to a varied number of abnormalities, which Anna exhibits during various periods she is responsible for her father. Hysteria stems from the suppression of different memories, which act out in someway physically and/or mentally. It is this suppression that must be brought to light in her case or in that of others, that are experiencing hysterical symptoms of a similar or different nature. One way to do this is through hypnotism, like in the case of Anna O. This allows Breuer, Freud’s colleague, to unlock the mind of Anna O. in the hope to discover what is troubling her.
The patient’s ego had been approached by an idea which proved to be incompatible, which provoked on the part of the ego a repelling force of which the purpose was defense against this incompatible idea. This defense was in fact successful. The idea in question was forced out of the consciousness and out of memory (Freud P.269).
In Anna O.’s case when all these memories were brought to the forefront, her symptoms ceased.
Foucault would find disagreement in the handling of the case of Elizabeth Von R. by Freud. Freud in this case as in others is trying to make the implicit, explicit, but the way in which he achieves this goal is different. There is physical handling of the patient in this case. Freud applies pressure to the head of Elizabeth Von R. to extract information from her. While the pressure was applied she was able to recall the memories, and when it was removed the sensation went away. Foucault would see this as a way of seducing information/memories from the patient. Much the same way information was extracted through torture earlier in history, with less severity, but yet solicited.
As in both cases discussed, the patients were suffering from a defense hysteria. These could both be equated to the standards society sets for itself. Take the case again of Elizabeth Von R., she was largely confronted with her affections for her brother-in-law. In society, it was unacceptable to have certain feelings for one’s brother-in-law; therefore she was forced to repress those feelings which in turn became physical abnormalities. It can also be noted that the patient has the control over the repression. Elizabeth Von R. would hold back giving information until after several attempts, this would show either her power over that knowledge, or her degree of repression.
A violent opposition started against the entry into the consciousness of the questionable mental process, and for that reason it remained unconscious. As being something unconscious, it had the power to construct a symptom. This same opposition, during psychoanalytic treatment, sets itself up once more against our efforts to transform what is unconscious into what is conscious. That is what we perceive as resistance. We have proposed to give the pathogenic process, which is demonstrated by the resistance, the name of repression (Freud 286).
Foucault brings to light the way in which the individual is affected by the large and small segments of society. He demonstrates the power-knowledge relationship that the individual is also subjected to in everyday life. With this knowledge, is it possible to change the way in which our society affects us? There really is no way in which we can rid ourselves of the power-knowledge relationship. If society changes one thing, it will lead to an affect on something else. Therefore, we must remain aware of this power-knowledge relationship, so there is no hidden power relations. The individual will then be liberated in self-knowledge. As long as there are standards that we have to live by, there will always be hysteria in the individual, leading to the need for the discipline of psychotherapy and individuals like Sigmund Freud.