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Old 11-12-2006   #1
eth
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Madness in Literature

Lately I have become very interested in all kinds of literature written by the insane (a term that defies definition, of course, but which I take to mean, in this context, anyone diagnosed with a mental illness or showing obvious signs of suffering from one, e.g. death by suicide). I cannot properly explain my infatuation with the subject, but I feel a certain connection when reading books of this kind, as if the gap between author and text is reduced to the point of almost ceasing to exist. In a way, the poem, short story or novel becomes a slice of the author's psyche ready for me to inspect and, if the writing is good, inhabit. This response is not restricted to insane litterature, but the thrill of it is greater when I know, or can reasonably delude myself into believing, that the hallucinations, the madness, the melancholy being described is, to a certain extent, rooted in actual experiences. I do realise that this is a naive and terribly romantic idea that would make me the object of ridicule in most litterary circles, but it's how I feel.

So far I have read works by Gérard de Nerval (numerous stays at asylums, suicide), Mário de Sá-Carneiro (suicide) and Robert Walser (admitted to asylum), along with some more doubtful cases, such as Franz Kafka and E. A. Poe. For a bit of background I've read Touched with Fire by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, which I recommend to anyone interested in the influence of manic-depressive illness on the arts, and an anthology, In the Realms of the Unreal, containing poetry and prose written by psychotic patients at various hospital wards in various countries at various times, including excerpts from the Prinzhorn collection and works by notable outsider artists Henry Darger and Adolf Wölfli.

I know of Ann Quin (depressive, suicide), B. S. Johnson (depressive, suicide), Lord Byron (manic-depressive), Virginia Woolf (manic-depressive, suicide), Antonin Artaud (schizophrenic or manic-depressive, numerous stays at asylums), Unica Zürn (depressive, suicide), Sylvia Plath (depressive, suicide), Paul Celan (suicide), Anne Sexton (depressive, suicide), William Blake (possibly manic-depressive), Robert Lowell (manic-depressive, suicide) and probably quite a few more, but their names (and diseases) escape me at the moment.

My list of forums, online or otherwise, suitable for this subject is very short, and I felt that this site might be a good place to ask nicely for recommendations for the second list, elaborations on the names already there or maybe just a general discussion of deranged literature.

... one of them understands, and suddenly it is raining flowers.
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