Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Madness and Civilization

Comment contributed by Colin Gordon, April 2003.
(1) This is a rare error by the translator of this book. (2) The mistranslated sentence was used in a widely cited essay by H C Erik Midelfort as evidence of Foucault’s defective historical scholarship.

French Original
‘les fous alors avaient une existence facilement errante’.
Michel Foucault, (1972). Histoire de la folie. Paris: Gallimard, p. 19. This is a revised edition of the book which originally appeared in 1961.

Published English Translation
‘Madmen then led an easy wandering existence’.
Michel Foucault, (1973). Madness and Civilization. Vintage Books, p. 8.

Alternative Translation
‘the existence of the mad at that time could easily be a wandering one’.

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