Foucault’s ‘Metabody’

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 7 (2):187-203 (2010)

Abstract

The paper treats several ontological questions about certain nineteenth-century and contemporary medical and scientific conceptualizations of hereditary relation. In particular, it considers the account of mid-nineteenth century psychiatric thought given by Foucault in Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1973–1974 and Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974–1975 . There, Foucault argues that a fantastical conceptual prop, the ‘metabody,’ as he terms it, was implicitly supposed by that period’s psychiatric medicine as a putative ground for psychiatric pathology. After presenting the heart of Foucault’s thought on the ‘metabody,’ the paper investigates the possibility that a contemporary version of a ‘metabody’ may operate today as a conceptual analog of the nineteenth-century psychiatric theory and practice that Foucault began to expose in the texts examined here. It speculates that we might identify a contemporary genetic version of a ‘metabody’ in a particular current conception of the gene as replicator, an item marked by an ambiguous temporal ontology.

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