PS/MS Mental Health: Representations of "Madness" in American Literature



Time and place

  • Di 18:15-19:45, .ics

Das Seminar gehört in folgenden Studiengängen jeweils zu folgenden Modulen:

  • BA English and American Studies: Zwischenmodul II Literature (Zulassungsvoraussetzung: Zwischenmodul I: Thematisches - Kombinationsmodul)

  • BA English and American Studies: Zwischenmodul II (Studienrichtung American Studies; Zulassungsvoraussetzung: abgeschlossene GOP)

  • Lehramt Englisch an Gymnasien: Zwischenmodul L-GYM Literature (Zulassungsvoraussetzung: Basismodul Literature)

Students will be asked to write a reading response and are required to write a term paper.


This seminar will investigate the complex relationship between discourses involved in the construction of concepts of ‘mental health,’ as well as its, likewise constructed, ostensible opposites, and literary practice. We will scrutinize the long history of romanticizing associations of literary and artistic ‘ingenuity’ with notions of ‘madness.’ Conceptualizations of ‘mental health’ often appear to be constituted via the exclusion of supposed ‘deviations’ from normative discursive configurations of mental states. ‘Neurotypicality’ is a younger term which has emerged in order to denote normative renditions of mental conditions. In this seminar, we will familiarize ourselves with rather recent approaches in literary studies which have proposed practices of literary criticism that challenge neurotypicality and try to do justice to neurodiversity. In a somewhat related vein, a new transdisciplinary research field has emerged, namely so-called ‘mad studies,’ which will also be introduced in the seminar. Mad studies seek to reclaim and resignify the term ‘madness,’ often from the position of psychiatric survivors, similar to previous critical appropriations and resignifications of formerly insulting and discriminating terms, such as ‘queer.’ We will deal with literary texts by authors from all three classical genres of literature, i.e. prose fiction, poetry and drama, from the 18th century to the present day. Among others, we will discuss texts by the following authors: Natalie Diaz, Emily Dickinson, Shulamith Firestone, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Allen Ginsberg, Herman Melville, Ottessa Moshfegh, M. NourbeSe Philip, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, Claudia Rankine, Anne Sexton, Tennessee Williams. We will scrutinize how figurations and notions of ‘madness’ and ‘mental health’ are being represented and negotiated in literary texts. Moreover, we will critically contextualize these texts and read them alongside scholarly studies of the historical development and the cultural-political function of constructions of ‘madness,’ of their embeddedness in structural formations of power and knowledge.

Additional information

Expected participants: 20