Undergraduate Course: Crazy Talk: Memoirs of Madness

Unknown illustrator and Rodolfo Fucile

Instructor: Aranye Fradenburg

Course: ENGL 197

Time: Spring 2016, 9:30-10:45, MF

This class focuses on the experience of madness (schizophrenia, depression, bipolar illness, and borderline personality disorder); its expression in the form of the memoir; and the role of autobiographical discourse in changing minds.  Trauma Warning:  the material in these course texts and topics of class discussion could be traumatizing.  Do not take this class if you have concerns about your ability to tolerate unhappy and sometimes outrageous subjects.

This small seminar requires regular class participation, one seminar presentation one 2-3 page paper, and one 7-10 page paper.  The course will cover memoirs and fictionalized memoirs, including the following texts:

D. P. Schreiber, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.  Daniel Paul Schreber was the son of a famous pediatrician and later became a prominent attorney and judge in 19th-century Germany.  The Memoirs of his mental illness became the topic of an important case study by Sigmund Freud.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.  Sylvia Plath is one of the USA’s best 20th-century poets; Ariel is perhaps her best-known book of poems.  The Bell Jar  is a somewhat fictionalized memoir that tells the story of Esther Greenwood’s first episode of major depressive disorder.

Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted.  Susanna Kaysen was the daughter of one of John F. Kennedy’s economic advisors and is now a novelist.  Her memoir of her institutionalization for borderline personality disorder became the film Girl, Interrupted, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.

Kay Jamison, An Unquiet Mind.  Kay Jamison is a clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, and Honorary Professor of English at St. Andrews University.  Her book An Unquiet Mind explores the experience of bipolar illness.

Elyn Saks, The Center Cannot Hold.  Elyn Saks is Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.  She is also a MacArthur Fellow.  The Center Cannot Hold tells the story of the onset of her schizophrenia.

Image credit: unknown illustrator, “The Bell Jar;” Rodolfo Fucile, “El Caso Schreber”

 

 

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