In “Madness And Civilization”, Foucault writes about an early trope concerning madness– the “Ship Of Fools”. Mentally ill people are grouped together and put on a ship– perhaps this ship travels the rivers of Europe on a pilgrimage to any of various shrines. Perhaps the insane are simply and mainly cast away from land, from the certain shores of the healthy.
As a schizophrenic person, this image interests me. I notice that a ship is referred to- and it is a vessel that only the insane board. I infer that the ship represents a sort of travelling chaos or irrationality– to get on board is one of life’s possibilities, but the sane reject it.
The “Ship Of Fools” is a metaphor for aspects of society and life for which only fools relentlessly quest. The well-grounded person refuses the journey. Culture, reason, and accepted values are the sane person’s landed castle.
Why is the madman on a journey? Why can he or she never dock, never come home? In part, this may because they have become apart from culture– society has set them off, on this never-ending quest.
From the schizophrenic’s perspective, I have to add that, conversely– perhaps the mentally ill person has cast society off. The mentally ill person boards the ship, by refusing to accept society’s’ standards. A compromise, to externalize the chaos and irrationality of life, has been refused by the mentally ill person. The insane person embodies that chaos. The crazy person and the sane reject one another.
Perhaps what seems the journey of a fool, to the healthy world, seems to the insane person the quest of a hero– to leave the shores of the known and defined and seek deeper, more hidden meanings.