Michael Foucault's Birth of a Clinic Term Paper

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Foucault's Birth of the Clinic

Initially, in order to provide a stable framework on this study, we would try to clearly define, identify and learn both the visible and literary meaning on the work of Michel Foucault's work, The Birth of the Clinic. We will intend to scrutinize each of the underlying detail of this literary masterpiece and retrieve its modern influences in the field of medical and health studies.

In the modern era of rational thinking and ideas, the concept of which Michel Foucault is trying to convey in his literary work, The Birth of the Clinic is the postmodern influence of medical attribute to the social and political structure of our society. The concept of which Foucault considers as a myth of which he notes:

"...the first task of the doctor is ... political: the struggle against disease must begin with a war against bad government." Man will be totally and definitively cured only if he is first liberated...p.33."

Foucault nevertheless contradicted these myths stating that:

"All of this is so much day-dreaming; the dream of a festive city, inhabited by an open-air mankind, in which youth would be naked and age know no winter,... -- all these values were soon to fade." (p. 34)

He recounts contradictory to the notion that a medical practitioner was such a noteworthy sage that he could lead the community to a utopia.

This myth was consequently brought about by the beliefs of the early medical institution of the Eighteenth Century of which with the remarkable character of a doctor, synonymous or most of the time completely the opposite to the structure of our social and political system, that he can detect any illness by means of a gaze. In the middle part of this study, we will define the underlying statement of Foucault referring to his contradictions and opinions regarding this mythical belief of the practice.

He uses the term gaze more often in his work as a term commonly identifying the credibility of a doctor to see through the illness and disease of a patient by simply gazing to a patient by what is seen visible and noticeable in order to make a finding or a diagnosis. (The term gaze would be defined in broad in the latter portion of this study.)

Although, the postmodern viewpoint of Foucault is somewhat contradicted by other literary figures. Many disagree that the ideas of Foucault is postmodern. Lyotard (1993) defines postmodernism as:

"an incredulity towards metanarratives ... It is a skepticism towards all grand theories that think they have the last word."

In this book, the question still lies as to whether the ideas of Foucault contradicts or jives with the beliefs of the modern era or simply complementing the beliefs and notions of the age of Enlightenment in the late Seventeenth to the early Eighteenth Century.

Foucault suggests and advocates that ancient doctors are wise in their former nature. In the Age of Enlightenment, it rejected the superstitious beliefs of medieval times finally awakened from its dim fallacy and embraced the knowledge of the modern thinking. In one of the editorial reviews on this book Birth of the Clinic, The: An Archaeology of Medical Perception states that:

"In the early eighteenth century, medicine underwent a mutation. For the first time, medical knowledge took on a precision that had formerly belonged only to mathematics. The body became something that could be mapped. Disease became subject to new rules of classification. And doctors begin to describe phenomena that for centuries had remained below the threshold of the visible and expressible"

This review informatively suggests that the change on the beliefs of old practices from the Medieval period to the Age of Enlightenment describes the will full acceptance that doctors accumulated modern wisdom eliminating old practices and superstitious perspective of which Foucault clearly expounds and define in theory that ancient doctors possesses such wisdom. The change was undoubtedly reveals the underlying theory of Foucault's defining the early to the postmodern Birth of the Clinic.

The modernity of the practice and beliefs was in existent and the theory of Foucault is somewhat justified.

But how was it accepted?

"The postmodern complaint is that although the moderns threw off the yoke of medieval superstitions, they developed their own myths, and the moderns bought these new myths with little critical questioning. (Lois Shawyer 1998)"

The Author relates that, one of those myths had to do with the wisdom of doctors. According to the myths of modernity, doctors were prudent. They could spot precedent disturbance into the certainty of things. We could relate to them our tribulations and their wisdom would lead us to a better life. Doctors attributed as the carrier of wisdom breaking boundaries of our culture thus imploring the relationship between a good life and good health.

In the Classical Period, the diseased body itself became the central point of medical gaze, here we see a momentous shift in medicine. As stated by Foucault as he relates:

"How can the free gaze that medicine, and, through it, the government, must turn upon the citizens be equipped and competent without being embroiled in the esotericism of knowledge and the rigidity of social privilege?" p. 45

In this work of Foucault, he used the term gaze as a technical term, wherein the word exemplifies the observation, findings and clinical analysis of a doctor. As Lois Shawwer explains in her commentary on the works of Foucault, as:

"The people of modernity thought that with this gaze the physican could penetrate illusion and see through to the underlying reality, that the physician had the power to see the hidden truth. "

Through the rigid exposure of these medical practitioners to their patients through internship and practicing apprentices they have acquire the ability to make conclusions and analysis just by gazing through their patients. They were subjected to scrutinizing actual patients and learning from actual experiences communicating and conveying knowledge a far cry from being brought about through books when they were still in the quality of esoteric knowledges of the elite. In modernity with the existence of modern technology, this clinical gaze is still in practice with the aid of instruments now brought about by the change of contemporary times.

This theory now bounds on the words narrated by Foucault as:

"Medicine had tended, since the eighteenth century, to recount its own history as if the patient's bedside had always been a place of constant, stable experience, in contrast to theories and systems, which had been in perpetual change and masked beneath their speculation the purity of clinical evidence. The theoretical, it was thought, was the element of perpetual change, the starting point of all the historical variations in medical knowlege, the locus of conflicts and disappearances; it was in this theoretical element that medical knowledge marked its fragile relativity. The clinic, on the other hand, was thought to be the element of its positive accumulation: it was this constant gaze upon the patient, this age-old, yet ever renewed attention that enabled medicine not to disappear entirely with each new speculation, but to preserve itself, to assume little / by little the figure of a truth that is definitve, if not completed, in short, to develop, below the level of the noisy episodes of its history, in a continuous historicity. In the non-variable of the clinic, medicine, it was thought had bound truth and time together. (p.54/55)"

This theory now explains the constant views of change in this field wherein it speaks of contrasting theories and practices in medicine both in and from the bedside of a patient through Foucaults notion on the Birth of the Clinic. In seeking new and modern knowledge of the practice through the variety of observation of different practitioners. As Foucaults


The observing gaze refrains from intervening: it is silent and gestureless. Observation leaves things as they are; there is nothing hidden to it in what is given. The correlative of observation is never the invisible, but always the immediately visible, once one has removed the obstacles erected to reason by theories and to the senses by the imagination. In the clinician's catalogue, the purity of the gaze is bound up with a certain silence that enables him to listen. The prolix discourses of systems must be interrupted: 'all theory is always silent or vanishes at the patient's bedside.

Foucault also relates and identifies gaze both clinical and on pure observation. Wherein such gaze attributes the knowledge and wisdom of the doctor and practitioner on the bedside of the patient where everything he had learned from books are set aside and practical learning is presently conceived.

It is assumed that such work by Foucault allows the development of the clinical gaze in the wake of modern mdecical knowledge and practices. It helps to define the place of modern medicine, of doctors and patients and of medical organization in this fast changing world.

With such assessment on the work of Foucault as he…

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