Note: This course discusses mental illness and associated issues. Associated topics, such as suicide, abuse, and self-harm may arise during discussions.

Description: Since antiquity, constructions of madness have influenced, and been influenced by, the intersections of literature, philosophy, and medicine. Madness may be genius, divine, or prophetic, but it may also be amoral, inhuman, and deviant. Alongside narrative fiction and film, this course asks how we define and understand mental illness across different times and places by assessing the different definitions of madness that arise through cultural, experiential, and clinical constructions. Further, the course asks students to reflect upon the ethical challenges associated with representing mental illness, questioning the medical and cultural value of such products and their reception.

The first part of this course asks if madness is (only) in the mind. Beginning with Classical schools of thought that first sought to draw associations between the mind and the body, students will explore representations of mental illness as forms of alienation that seek to define madness as otherness. Students will study representations that demonstrate madness as both the cause and the product of social dysfunction and this ambiguous juxtaposition between sane and insane enables deeper discussion to emerge on the constructed nature of mental ‘health’ and to challenge broader relations between such dichotomies as human/post-human, self/other, and healthy/ill.

The second part of this course focusses on the cultural construction of madness and particularly on Foucauldian-influenced understandings of power structures in the definition and treatment of mental illness. Constructions of gender, race, class, and age will be discussed alongside twentieth- and twenty-first-century fiction and film, and ideas of treatments and cures will be discussed in relevant historical contexts. Drawing on Theory of Mind – the idea that we can understand the mental states of others – students are encouraged to discuss the implications of these representations of madness in both positive and negative ways, thinking about the potential and challenges of diagnosis, ethics, and narrative.