Madness and Modernism

Today I have been thinking about madness and representation. There’s a nice light topic for a Tuesday lunchtime.

Still researching for the paper I mentioned in an earlier post, I was reading K. Valentine’s essay: ‘Mad and Modern : A Reading of Emily Holmes Coleman and Antonia White’ (here).

The essay seeks to present a reading of texts by women identified as ‘mad’ that avoids teleological theories (such as ‘writing drives people mad’ or ‘being mad helps people write’). It argues (with Russ and Felski), that a novel is no less ‘novelistic’ just because it includes autobiographical elements, and that the assumption that writing by women is less artful, stylistically ambitious or self-concious than writing by men is unfounded and limiting. It’s fascinating, I read a quote by Jeanette Winterson a while back which said (roughly) that if a male writer includes autobiographical elements, his text is identified as fragmentary, postmodern etc, whereas when a woman does the same, her text is consigned to the autobiography shelf and implicitly discredited.

At the same time as musing on all the above, I was engaged in a lively debate about the new Faber & Faber 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. The Independant reports it like this:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/50th-anniversary-edition-of-the-bell-jar-sparks-anger-for-repackaging-it-as-chick-lit-8477810.html

I recoiled a bit at the illustration and the influence. I understand the powder compact as symbol for concealed identity and distortion, but the bright red colouring, the ‘Judy Blume’-esque typeface, the lipstick… all of these don’t sit well with me when I think of a text that (admittedly I haven’t read for a few years, but) speaks to me of disintegration and distress.

I should really get back to my exploration of madness in the FDS, but I’m always up for a brief glance at the big picture, to see how these issues play out in literature as a whole…

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