Experts by Experience: ‘Madness’ Narratives, Language, and Politics
AbstractThis thesis demonstrates that the historic silencing of those labelled ‘mad’ is – paradoxically – inextricable from language. Stigma is a semantic issue. The focus of my first chapter is to establish how and when the language available to discuss ‘madness’ became so problematic. Chapter one establishes a dual language problem: first, the language which surrounds ‘madness’ is limited and limiting; second, this language imposes social ‘otherness’, often permanently. I approach the politics of the language of ‘madness’ using Saussure’s hypothesis of signification, Lacan’s theory of the nom du père, and narrative theory, in order to investigate who is to blame when language and narratives fail. In chapter two, I examine the reality of these semantic and narrative politics. This chapter covers a variety of ‘madness’ narratives salvaged from psychiatric textbooks, for example those of influential psychiatrists Emil Kraepelin, Eugen Bleuler and Sigmund Freud. Such texts have been essential to the development of psychiatry, but how have these discourses about ‘madness’ functioned to establish stigma? I retrieve personal accounts from these hegemonic publications, establishing how the presence of paratexts and psychiatric ‘authority’ manipulate the receipt of such narratives. This will demonstrate how the historic silencing of ‘madness’ began. Chapter three focuses on how a cross section of nineteenth-century fiction portrays ‘madness’, in order to explore the potential for fiction to offer ‘madness’ an accessible narrative platform. Initially, I examine literature as a continuation of psychiatric discourse, including Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’; Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Maud’; Bram Stoker’s Dracula; and Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. As a point of comparison, I examine literary representations which go beyond psychiatric discourse to articulate ‘madness’, exploring Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper; Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether’; and texts which explore other selves and other worlds (Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘William Wilson’; and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass). Chapter four examines the merits of visual art as a platform for ‘madness’ narratives, as it is divorced from many of the issues which are latent in language use. I explore the oeuvres of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century artists Richard Dadd, Vincent Van Gogh, Louis Wain, Adolf Wölfli, August Klett, and Hyacinth Freiherr von Wieser. Despite the theoretical assumption that visual art is universal and accessible, the social reception of art, necessary for this communication to be heard and validated, proves that the practice is far removed from this hypothesis. The stereotype of the ‘mad’ artist is, in itself, an oxymoron: in the realm of social engagement, either the artistic identity of the individual is compromised and eventually disparaged, or ‘madness’ is obscured and censored. Chapter five shows how the nineteenth-century model for (mis)understanding ‘madness’ is the foundation for our twenty-first-century discourse. This chapter examines narratives of ‘madness’ in popular culture, to understand how these discourses echo or challenge psychiatric representations of ‘madness’, and how a mainstream social audience is encouraged to feel about such depictions, including episodes The Simpsons, House and Peep Show, to explore how psychiatric discourse has shaped these narratives. This chapter also scrutinises the language employed by the media and other mainstream agencies in order to establish what these popular discourses reveal about entrenched societal prejudices and fear. This thesis addresses the question: can we truly ever speak of ‘madness’ without simultaneously silencing it?
CitationHutchinson, A. (2016). Experts by experience: ‘Madness’ narratives, language, and politics. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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