Michel Foucault: “Spaces and Classes”

For us, the human body defines, by natural right, the space of origin and of distribution of disease: a space whose lines, volumes, surfaces, and routes are laid down, in accordance with a now familiar geometry, by the anatomical atlas. But this order of the solid, visible body is only one way – in all likelihood neither the first, nor the most fundamental – in which one spatializes disease. There have been, and will be, other distributions of illness.

When will we be able to define the structures that determine, in the secret volume of the body, the course of allergic reactions? Has anyone ever drawn up the specific geometry of a virus diffusion in the thin layer of a segment of tissue? Is the law governing the spatialization of these phenomena to be found in a Euclidean anatomy? After all, one only has to remember that the old theory of sympathies spoke a vocabulary of correspondences, vicinities, and homologies, terms for which the perceived space of anatomy hardly offers a coherent lexicon. Every great thought in the field of pathology lays down a configuration for disease whose spatial requisites are not necessarily those of classical geometry.

The exact superposition of the ‘body’ of the disease and the body of the sick man is no more than a historical, temporary datum. Their encounter is self-evident only for us, or, rather, we are only just beginning to detach ourselves from it. The space of configuration of the disease and the space of localization of the illness in the body have been superimposed, in medical experience, for only a relatively short period of time – the period that coincides with nineteenth-century medicine and the privileges accorded to pathological anatomy {…}


Source: Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic, An archaeology of medical perception, Translated by A.M.Sheridan, Routledge editions – London, New York

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