Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature and Thought Hardcover – 1 Sep 1993
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Wholly fascinating..."Madness and Modernism" is rooted in a thorough knowledge of the psychological literature, but [Sass] also draws on an extensive acquaintance with 19th and 20th-century art, literature and philosophy...Powerful, lucid and original...Should revolutionise our thinking about the workings of the human mind. -- Iain McGilchrist "London Review of Books" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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of modernism and schizophrenia and related
disorders -- I couldn't put this book down. Sass'
knowledge of modern art and literature, coupled
with his experience as a clinical psychologist and
professor at Rutgers, makes this book. It's
extremely well-written -- the language is complex,
but by no means stilted and academic for the sake
of being academic. Sass' words will catch you and
draw you through fascinating discussions about
identity, language, visual representation, and
much more. He presents balanced observations and makes appropriate connections -- he doesn't
romanticize schizophrenia. One story he relays
expresses this perfectly (pardon my paraphrasing):
James Joyce discussed the creative similarities
between him and his daughter, a schizophrenic,
with Carl Jung. Jung described the difference
between Joyce's creativity and his daughter's
seeming creativity by saying that the difference
was that Joyce was diving down into the depths
while his daughter was falling. This is a perfect
analogy to put Sass' book into perspective.
If you have any interest in issues of identity,
psychology, and modern culture, you will want to
read this book.
I do have some reservations about this fascinating argument. First, I don't think Sass ever makes clear the nature of the connection between madness and modernism. Does he see the former as caused by the latter? Are both manifestations of the organization of an industrial society? Second, Sass doesn't seem to recognize that he is actually working within a well-established intellectual tradition. The psychological and aesthetic literature on decadence in the late nineteenth century, as exemplified by Max Nordau's Degeneration, saw both madness and avant-garde artistic expression as products of hypertrophy of the intellect. Third, there may be important differences between the deterministic world of madness and that of modernism. Specifically, the rationality of modernity can be seen as connecting causes and effects on a single surface of reality that neither reflects nor penetrates any other dimension. Madness, on the other hand, seems to work within a rationality of depth, giving thoughts and occurrences a metaphysical resonance.
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