Foucault, Hughes, and Maniac – Happiness and Madness

Foucault’s essay on the asylum presents an interesting idea about the evolution of society. The definition and understanding of madness has changed over time. Initially madness was revered as a mark of difference or of uniqueness. It was celebrated not shunned. But with the introduction of the asylum came the popular idea of mental illness, that someone with aberrant thought processes was somehow sick and needed to be cured. The overall resistance to mental aberrance means that society must have developed a standard of cognition; people were now either sane or insane.

This more standardized view of the mind did not extend to mental illness alone but also to the very idea of happiness. Hughes’ essay on happiness is reflective of this. He proposes the idea that society’s ultimate goal is to make everyone happy. He goes on to say that society can accomplish this feat by creating an environment in which everyone has access to drugs that will alter their brain chemistry to produce the chemicals associated with happiness. Hughes’ ideas relate to the standardization of thought through the standardization of happiness. Hughes is essentially saying that it is possible for one type of universally available happiness to satisfy everyone.

Maniac utilizes themes from both Foucault and Hughes. Mental illness plays a prominent role with everyone telling Owen that he is insane. He sees a pattern where others do not. Annie represents a contradiction of Hughes’ idea of happiness, because she willingly continues to take a pill to make herself miserable, even though she should not want to do this according to Hughes. Furthermore, the company for which Annie and Owen are doing trials is a fulfillment of Hughes’ vision. The company believes they can use a specific mixture of drugs to alter brain chemistry to treat any form of mental problem.

Society’s new ideas of madness essentially stigmatize those thought processes which are unusual or inscrutable as not acceptable, and through this standardization society will come to believe that it can control standardized happiness (Hughes). This is how these ideas relate to posthumanism. Posthumanism is chiefly concerned with the rewriting of what it means to be human These new ideas of sanity and happiness have fundamentally changed (or threaten to change) the way members of society live their lives. The mind is an essential part of the human-being, and Hughes and Foucault have recognized that that mind has been rewritten by society, which is a chief part of rewriting the human as a whole.

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