’Message ou bruit?’ Resituating a short text by Foucault on medicine

I’ve mentioned before how Dits et écrits, which is an excellent collection, can sometimes decontextualise a piece by Foucault, making it hard to see why it was written.

Tracking down the original publication of pieces can often be difficult but is usually worthwhile. I can only imagine how much work it was to find Foucault’s short pieces before the collection was published.

This decontextualization is well exemplified by ‘Message ou bruit?’, published as Dits et écrits text #44. In the original four-volume edition, this is in volume I, 557-60. I don’t think this piece has been translated – its title is “Message or Noise?” or perhaps “Signal or Noise?”

It is a short text on medicine, first published in Le Concours médical No 43, 15 Octobre 1966, pp. 6285-86. I was first alerted to the possibility there was something more interesting at stake by the entry in Foucault’s Titres et travaux where he refers to it as “Les problèmes des diagnostic”.

Looking at the original publication shows that Foucault’s text was partnered by one by François Dagognet (pp. 6281-85). Both are under the heading “Colloque sur… La nature de la pensée médicale (II)”. A short text introduces both:

L’échange d’opinions qui a paru dans le no 42 du 15 octobre a été communiqué à F. Dagognet et à Michel Foucault. Voici leurs réponses… [The exchange of views which appeared in No 42 of 15 October was shared with F. Dagognet and Michel Foucault. Here are their responses…]

The two pieces are entitled “Point de vue de F. Dagognet” and “Les réflexions de M. Foucault”. “Message ou bruit?” appears as the title of the first short section, rather than obviously of the piece as a whole.

Le Concours médicale is a professional medical journal, having the subtitle “Organe hebdomadaire des praticiens [weekly journal for practitioners]”. (It has recently been relaunched as Concours Pluripro) The previous issue mentioned has a collective piece entitled “Colloque sur… La nature de la pensée médicale (I)”, Le Concours médicale, No 42, 15 Octobre 1966, 6101-12.

Interestingly, Dagognet wrote a piece in the same issue of the journal as the original exchanges: “Michel Foucault ou l’archéologie de la médecine”, Le Concours médical 42, 1966, 6097-99. Dagognet had written a review of Naissance de la clinique the year before: “Archéologie ou histoire de la médecine?” Critique 216, 1965, 436-48. The Critique review I knew about – it is one of only two reviews I’ve found of this book around the time of its publication – but not this later piece. In Le Concours médical Dagognet situates Naissance de la clinique in relation to Histoire de la folie and Les mots et les choses, arguing that all the books contribute to a history of medicine, for their content and their method.

So, as well as giving a sense of the debate to which Foucault was responding, checking the original source of the piece also led me to an interesting piece about Foucault. Dagognet was a student of Georges Canguilhem, and like him, trained as both a philosopher and medical doctor. A French obituary is here and a brief note in English is at the Cahiers pour l’Analyse site. He and Foucault would debate Georges Cuvier in a conference Canguilhem organised a few years later. Foucault’s paper from that event has been translated twice (here and here), but the separate response to Dagognet from that event is another text which doesn’t make a lot of sense outside its original context.

“Message ou bruit?” remains a minor piece by Foucault, but it’s interesting to see how he was being discussed in medical journals. The other contemporary review of Naissance de la clinique was by the director of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, F.N.L. Poynter, in History of Science (Vol 3, 1964, 140-43). Foucault would go on to work with doctors in the Groupe Information Santé in the early 1970s, which I discuss in Foucault: The Birth of Power. A bibliography of their work is here.

This entry was posted in Foucault: The Birth of Power, Georges Canguilhem, Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Foucault. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ’Message ou bruit?’ Resituating a short text by Foucault on medicine

  1. Pingback: The Archaeology of Foucault update 14: working on madness and medicine and a complete draft | Progressive Geographies

  2. Joakim S. Lange says:

    Very interesting connections. Where would I be able to locate copies of these two issues of the Concours médical – either in full or just the articles mentioned in your post?

    • stuartelden says:

      I use Worldcat to find libraries that have copies of these. I used the ones at the British Library. I have a copy of the key pieces, which I can share if you send me your email. stuart.elden[@]warwick.ac.uk

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