Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Agonizing Identity in Mental Health Law and Policy (Part I)

Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Agonizing Identity in Mental Health Law and Policy (Part I)

Article excerpt


I. Autoethnography (in a mad, mad, mad, mad. world)

1. "... an expert in the area of mental health law and policy"

2. Pinned

3. Phantasms (the spectral / between worlds)

II. Toward a political taxonomy of psychiatric subjectification

The critical ontology of ourselves must be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating: it must be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits imposed ort us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.1

What we are dealing with in th is new technology of power is not. exactly society (or at least not the social body: as defined by the jurists), nor is it the individual-as-body. It is a new body, a multiple body, a body with so many heads that, while they might not be infinite in number, cannot necessarily be counted. Biopolitics deals with the population, with the population as political problem, as a problem that is at once scientific and political, as a biological problem and as power's problem.2


Two puzzles inform my inquiry in this two-part paper. These puzzles express different dimensions of a. problem posed (or one I take to be posed) in the work of Michel. Foucault: the problem of doing critique, or hazarding a "critical ontology of ourselves," in the thick of biopower. I have encountered these puzzles in theory and in practice, both in my work as a scholar in the field that is "mental health law and policy" and in the work (or work-in-progress) that is myself.

The first puzzle is a methodological one: that of reconciling recognition of the colonization of identity-specifically, in my area of inquiry, the apparently inexhaustible colonization of self and world by the shilling and expanding categories of psychiatric kno w ledge/nos o logy.......-with the project of identity critique registered in the still new, still resonant imperative stated by Foucault in his reconceptualization of oppositional political inquiry; the imperative, already cited, of undertaking a. "critical ontology of ourselves." This imperative, as it is transmitted through Foucault's life's work, is not, as I understand it, a remote or abstract one: it is a call to bring critique so close to the bone that it pierces one's contemporary and constructed (still raw and felt, still "personal") human soul.

Foucault's imperative embraces the riddling labours of subjecting what is given, or what has acquired the inert and unquestioned status of ontology that which is fundamental to human the critical and analytical, political self-consciousness of human becoming. But how, exactly, does one adopt the posture of critique when one is strung along the filaments of the given: when one (one's thoughts and desires, the thoughts and desires registered now on this page and now as 1 edit this page, and again) occupies a node or perhaps multiple, interactive nodes in the webbing of contemporary historical-political consciousness; when one is so deeply coded and iterative as to encode even, the iterative moves of critique? For Foucault (or one of the Foucaults), the critic's trick is genealogy: creating an oppositional consciousness through attention to the ways that the categories through, which we understand ourselves have been created and shaped over time. The payoff, we are told, is recognition that this rush of noise we call identity and truth is dizzvingly polyphonic and in motion, rather than singular and unchanging. We contemplate our radical contingency and this we may (tentatively) call our freedom. Of course the engine of identity and truth, Foucault adds, is power. That may subdue our celebrations somewhat.

So far we are barely striking letter Ain the ABC's of critique. One may dimly recall the point when one first encountered this sort of idea in the Foucauklian original or in some other form. …

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