Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 119–138 | Cite as

Foucault's clinic

  • John C. Long


What does the word clinic mean? The clinic is first a place to diagnose and treat sick persons. The clinic is also a way of thinking and speaking; it is a discursive practice that links health with knowledge. For Michel Foucault the clinic is a mode of perception and enunciation that allows us to see and name disease and to place statements about illness among statements about birth and death. Within the clinic resides understanding of disease visible on the surface, yet hidden within the tissual depths, of an ailing patient. Foucault shows that by the dawn of the nineteenth-century medicine is no longer a two-dimensional reading of symptoms, but a three-dimensional probing from symptomatic surface into disease interior. The anatomical site of disorder hidden within tissual depths is visible to the scrutiny of pathologist, endoscopist or radiologist. The clinic, a discourse that enables us to think about disease when we make statements about health and death, operates not only in its familiar textual domain, the medical journal, but in pictures of the scene at the sickbed, and poetry about disease. The truth of disease and placement of that truth in a general plan of the world in Renaissance woodcuts and John Donne's poetry is different from the regime of truth after the birth of the clinic in Bichat'sTreatise on Membranes, the paintings of Laennec, Agnew and Gross, the modern lithographs and the verse of Walt Whitman and L. E. Sissman. Foucault's clinic is where knowledge and sickness some together in the modern period.


Medical Journal Verse Anatomical Site General Plan Discursive Practice 
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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • John C. Long
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.the Department of EnglishWayne State UniversityDetroit
  2. 2.the Department of Anatomic PathologyWilliam Beaumont HospitalRoyal Oak

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