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Revels in Madness offers a history of western culture's shifting understandings of insanity as evidenced in its literature and as influenced by medical knowledge. The survey traces the period from the development of Greek medicine, and of Greek tragedy and comedy, to contemporary representations of madness as shaped by modern psychiatry and psychoanalysis and portrayed in literature. It surveys a remarkable range of writers, including Cervantes, Nerval, Rimbaud, Hölderin, Charcot, Freud, and Kraepelin.
Conceptions of madness in literature have reflected the cultural assumptions of their era. During medieval times, insanity was viewed as a trial sent by God, while during the nineteenth century, it was seen simply as a sign of degenerate heredity. These two points of view represent a pre-modern and a modern understanding of madness, and the book is organized to emphasize the transition from classical theories of madness to modernity. This transition began at the end of the Enlightenment and culminates in the reactions seen in recent women's writing which challenge the postmodern understanding of madness as a fall from language or as a dysfunction of the cybernetic system that we now define as culture.
This book will interest those intrigued by the relationship between culture, medicine, and literature, both in the history of medicine and literature and in literary depictions of cognitive disablities. Students of comparative literature or the history of science, as well as doctors, therapists, and those interested in clinical psychology will enjoy reading this book.