Francis Bacon, Self-portrait, 1970

Madness: Society and the Psyche

Instructor: Patrick Blanchfield
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

From the start, Western philosophy, literature, and medicine have been preoccupiedand hauntedwith the figure of the mad and the idea of madness. What lies at the root of seemingly strange irruptions of emotion, speech, and erratic behavior? Do they arise by happenstance, or are they symptoms of disturbances in the body, the mind, the psyche, the soul, humours, and the like? Does the behavior of the mad reveal secret messages, canny prophecies, the inspiration of muses, or something else entirely? Do the mad and eccentric provoke social accommodation and care, or does their deviance constitute a dangerous threat to social order? Do concepts like “hysteria” and “melancholia” clarify certain historical eras and conditions of suffering, or are they merely dead-end diagnostic artifacts? And what does it even mean to think about sanity and disturbance, the normal and the abnormal, or what is currently termed “mental health” across cultures and millennia?

In this course, we will track the emergence of “madness” as a complex human phenomenon and object of cultural reflection from the Classical world to the Enlightenment. Starting with Hippocrates, Aristotle, Sophocles, and more, and proceeding through Aquinas, Margery Kempe, Medieval chansons, Shakespeare, Montaigne, and others, we will explore different  representations of social deviance that draw on explanations from berserker wilding to demonic possession to disturbances of the humours to manifestations of sexual sin. Our trajectory will bring us to the Early Modern era, where we will critically evaluate Michel Foucault’s famous History of Madness and reflect on how much, or how little, the first systematic accounts of madness as a medicalized problem implicate the emergence of the nation state, capitalism, and theories of market rationality. An abundance of primary sources, from hypnotist’s manuals to the Malleus Maleficarum, will be paired with theoretical readings by Henri Ellenberger, Tanya Luhrmann, Paul Veyne, Petteri Pietikainen, Silvia Federici, and more.

Course Schedule

Sunday, 3:00-6:00pm EST
July 18 — August 08, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Closed

Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.

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