I had always been interested in writing about madness and the psyche as an undergraduate, and was looking around for a suitable topic for a dissertation, and perhaps a PhD too. My initial literature review had not been encouraging. But the second-hand madness-as-liberation and the-insanity-of-daily-life stuff was wearing thin, and I was beginning to think that other topics might be more interesting or productive. Then I read Sass.
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I had always been interested in writing about madness and the psyche as an undergraduate, and was looking around for a suitable topic for a dissertation, and perhaps a PhD too. My initial literature review had not been encouraging.
But the second-hand madness-as-liberation and the-insanity-of-daily-life stuff was wearing thin, and I was beginning to think that other topics might be more interesting or productive.
Then I read Sass. Madness and Modernism was of a different intellectual order entirely. These are discussed in parallel with an equally rich array of examples from mostly high European modernism, which seemed to describe a parallel domain of being, only captured aesthetically rather than clinically. It proved indispensable for the dissertation of which more anon. I held on to the university library copy of Madness and Modernism for as long as possible, but when it had to be relinquished, it was hard to get a copy of my own.
The book was out of print, and second-hand copies always seemed to go for exorbitant sums on Amazon. This suggests it had become something of a cult work. I did ultimately get my hands on a cheap copy, but was nevertheless delighted to see at the turn of the new year that it had been republished by OUP , and that a symposium would be held in Durham , organized by Angela Woods, the CMH, and the Hearing the Voice project, to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of its publication — another indication of the esteem in which the book is held.
So I jumped at the chance to attend the symposium, which took place on Friday 11 th May. The papers and conversation were too interesting and intricate to attempt further inevitably crude summary, but those who missed the event may console themselves with the prospect of a recording of the last session becoming available at some point in the near future.
Questions from the floor also brought in important topics such as stigma, the nature of psychiatric classification and diagnosis, and the contested coherence — or even use altogether — of terms such as schizophrenia and schizophrenic Sass has a robust defence of this in the preface to the revised edition. I am still working on this question today, in one form or another, having gone back to the nineteenth century and earlier to think about the cultural history and complicated politics of identifying or claiming links between the arts and psychopathology.
There was — is — a lot more to say here. Can examples drawn from more popular or generic writing provide equal insight into this world? I am thinking particularly of science fiction, and an author like Philip K. Dick, who, while not quite a modernist formally speaking, has passages in his work reminiscent of what Sass calls the stimmung , or prodromal mood of schizophrenia, which are almost as compelling as the texts cited in Madness and Modernism.
Do they count in the same way? Or not? It can be easy as an English academic nowadays not to venture beyond the confines of models derived from historicism and cultural materialism. Of course this has produced much fine work, including scholarship on the relation between literary and medical or scientific cultures and discourses. Perhaps this is unjust to academic publishers. His research and teaching interests include Romanticism and its legacies, psychiatry and mental illness in nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, including modernism and contemporary literature, and life-writing autobiography and biography.
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Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought
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Schizophrenia: Chicken or Egg?
By Louis A. New York: Basic Books. IN this fascinating book Louis A. Sass, a clinical psychologist who teaches at Rutgers, explores why schizophrenia remains shrouded in mystery. To be sure, biological psychiatry and the neurosciences have considerably advanced our knowledge about the brain and the functioning of the nervous system in recent years.