Department of English and Literature
Utah Valley State College
Engl 486R: Topics in Literature
Literature and Madness
Fall 2006, LA 102
TTH 4-5:15 pm

Professor Christa Albrecht-Crane, Ph.D.
Office: LA 126F
Office Hours: TR 1-2 and half an hour after each class

This course focuses on the intersections of madness and the literary. The central questions that will occupy us in this course might be formulated as follows: in what way does madness account for the thing called literature? Why madness? Why don't we generally speak of the "reason" of the text? Why does reason always seem to contain, or evoke, its opposite, madness?

These questions propel us to ask, with Shoshana Felman in her 1978 book, Writing and Madness (Palo Alto: Stanford U Press, 2003), what we are finally looking for: Felman asks, "what is at issue here, texts abut madness or the very madness of the text?" In other words, do we look at texts written by or about mad characters or narrators, or do we in the end question the sanity of any text, any utterance? Perhaps, this course might suggest that literature would not be possible without a degree of madness--a madness that forms the limit and condition of creativity. Madness as thinking otherwise--as stretching texts, language, thought.

The Brazilian scholar Peter Pal Pelbart (whose essay we will be reading this semester) suggests, in a wonderfully inspiring way, that we find in a dialogue with madness "the opening of a desert, the forgetting mobility, the errant connectivity, the multidirectional proliferation, the absence of center, of subject, of object--a topology and a chronology which are hallucinatory enough." So, Pelbart suggests that the craziness of literature--the mad characters of Edgar Allan Poe, or Melville, or Kafka--might invite readers into other possible worlds that invoke new connections and unheard of resistances. This course will approach these provocative issues through the analysis of a variety of texts ranging from fiction and movies to philosophical essays.

The course is very reading-intensive and will require sustained and serious study of various texts. This is an advanced level class, and the readings are very difficult and complex. Also, students are required to watch two full-length, R-rated movies outside of class; edited versions of these movies may not be substituted.


Required Texts:

Books (UVSC bookstore or on-line; please get these exact same editions):

  • Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1986. ISBN 0816615152.

  • Michel Foucault. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Vintage Books, 1965. ISBN 067972110X.

  • Franz Kafka. The Metamorphosis (1915). A Norton Critical Edition. Trans. and ed. Stanley Corngold. New York: Norton & Co, 1996. ISBN: 0393967972.

  • Susanna Kaysen. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Random House, 1994. ISBN 0679746048.

Articles (pdf files of all these articles can be found under "calendar" on this website):

  1. Barrett, Robert J. "The 'Schizophrenic' and the Liminal Persona in Modern Society." Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 22 (1998): 465-494.

  2. Barthes, Roland. From Writing Degree Zero. 1953. Trans. Annette Lavers and Colin Smith. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967.

  3. Blanchot, Maurice. "Encountering the Imaginary," and "The Book to Come."  The Book to Come. 1959. Trans. Charlotte Mandell. Stanford: Stanford U Press, 2003.

  4. Blanchot, Maurice. "Forgetting, Unreason." The Infinite Conversation. 1969. Trans. Susan Hanson. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1993.

  5. Gilles Deleuze. "Bartleby; Or, The Formula." Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1997. 68-90.

  6. Gilles Deleuze, "Schizophrenia and Society." Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975-1995. Trans. Ames Hodges and Mike Taormina. New York: Semiotext(e), 2006. 17-28.

  7. Foucault, Michel. "Madness and Society." Michel Foucault: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. Ed. James D. Faubion. New York: The New Press, 1998. 335-342.

  8. Melville, Herman. "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street." <>.

  9. Miller, J. Hillis. "The Secret of Literature." What Is Literature? New York: Oxford U Press, 2002. 46-80.

  10. Pelbart, Peter Pal. "The Thought of the Outside, the Outside of Thought." Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 5.2 (2000): 201-209.

  11. Rubin, Lawrence C. "Merchandising Madness: Pills, Promises, and Better Living Through Chemistry." The Journal of Popular Culture 38.2 (2004): 369-383.

  12. Sacks, Oliver. "Preface," and "The Case of the Colorblind Painter." An Anthropologist on Mars. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1995.

  13. Slater, Lauren. "True Love." National Geographic 209. 2 (2006): 32-49.


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