Manifestations of Madness

University of Virginia, English Department, Aug. 2015 - Dec. 2015

Taught an expository writing course for lower-level undergrads, Fall 2015 (1 section).

Course Description

In his magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil writes: “The difference between a normal person and an insane one is precisely that the normal person has all the diseases of the mind, while the madman has only one.” Sanity and insanity, normalcy and madness, reality and fiction: Modern psychology has suggested that these divisions are constructed, dependent upon the stories that we tell and the rationalizations that we make. Our critical inquiry will thus take shape around these questions: Is there a normative way of seeing reality? To what extent is “the real” a narrative fiction? What are the historical and cultural valences surrounding the concept of madness, and how have these valences shaped the ways that we understand both our own positions and that of others within the world? In what ways have we represented aberrant or “transgressive” thinking in art, both verbal and visual? Are such transgressions merely the product of a historical moment, or are they rather attempts to reveal some elemental truth about the society in which we live? We will explore these questions through three units around which this course has been structured: Unit 1: Troubling the Divisions: Normalcy vs. Madness Unit 2: Questioning the Definitions: Histories and Cultures of Madness Unit 3: Representing the Mind: The Art of Madness Each of these units will culminate in a substantial writing project.