Sorry for the extended absence. I was facing a potentially serious legal/disciplinary situation.
I’ll have some musings on it once it has passed completely.
A tiny morsel: Not a single day passed when I didn’t think of Foucault’s article “About the concept of the dangerous individual in 19th century legal psychiatry” and the incitement to discourse more generally. Here’s a snippet from Foucault’s opening passage:
The accused hardly spoke at all. Questions from the presiding judge:
“Have you tried to reflect upon your case?”
“Why, at twenty-two years of age, do such violent urges overtake you? You must make an effort to analyze yourself. You are the one who has the keys to your own actions. Explain yourself.”
“Why would you do it again?”
Then a juror took over and cried out, “For heaven’s sake, defend yourself!”
Such a dialogue, or rather, such an interrogatory monologue, is not in the least exceptional. It could doubtlessly be heard in many courts in many countries. But, seen in another light, it can only arouse the amazement of the historian. Here we have a judicial system designed to establish misdemeanors, to determine who committed them, and to sanction these acts by imposing the penalties prescribed by the law. In this case we have facts which have been established, an individual who admits to them and one who consequently accepts the punishment he will receive. All should be for the best in the best of all possible judicial worlds. The legislators, the authors of the legal codes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, could not have dreamed of a clearer situation. And yet it happens that the machinery jams, the gears seize up. Why? Because the accused remains silent. Remains silent about what? About the facts? About circumstances? About the way in which they occurred? About the immediate cause of the events? Not at all. The accused evades a question which is essential in the eyes of a modern tribunal, but which would have had a strange ring to it 150 years ago: “Who are you?”