Writing Madness, Writing Normalcy

Self and Stigma in Memoirs of Mental Illness

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About the Book

What does it mean to be “mad” in contemporary American society? How do we categorize people’s reactions to extreme pressures, trauma, loneliness and serious mental illness? Importantly—who gets to determine these classifications, and why?

This book seeks to answer these questions through studying an increasingly popular media genre—memoirs of people with mental illnesses. Memoirs, like the ones examined in this book, often respond to stigmatizing tropes about “the mad” in popular culture and engage with concepts in mental health activism and research. This study breaks new academic ground and argues that the featured texts rethink the possibilities of community building and stigma politics. Drawing on literary analysis and sociological concepts, it understands these memoirs as complex, at times even contradictory, approaches to activism.

About the Author(s)

Lisa Spieker is a teacher in the field of political education in Dortmund, Germany with a focus on diversity, gender studies and hate speech.

Bibliographic Details

Lisa Spieker
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 243
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8227-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4484-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Preface 1
Introduction 13
Writing about Madness: Terminology 13
The Stigma of Madness 19
The Confessional Mode 25
Part I: ­Self-Fashioning as Normal (Again) and as Mad 29
Dealing with Discredit 32
Chapter One. ­Self-Fashioning as Normal (Again) 35
Relativization and Claims to Essential Normalcy 36
Normalization and Depathologization 40
Narratives of Transformation 45
Religious Conversion Narratives 48
Secular Conversion Narratives 54
Narratives of ­Self-Making 61
Chapter Two. ­Self-Fashioning as Mad 74
Complicating Madness and Identity Politics 76
The Humor in Madness 83
Madness as Suffering 88
Madness and Gothic Horror 96
Part II: Objective and Subjective Truth 123
Chapter Three. Producing Objective Truth 125
Writing for “the Own”: Literacy and Meaning-Making 128
Writing for “Normals”: Reliability and Voyeuristic Pleasures 138
Writing for Psychiatrists: ­Self-Specification and Case Histories 150
Chapter Four. Producing Subjective Truth 160
The Use of Pronouns and Narrative Situations 163
Defamiliarized Narratives 175
Defamiliarizing Uses of Language 180
Confessing Madness: Truth and Sexuality 185
Madness as Abject Corporality 189
Conclusion 200
Chapter Notes 209
Works Cited 219
Index 233

Book Reviews & Awards

• “No one has written such an extensive study of the subject covered herein.”— G.T. Couser, professor of English and founder of disability studies emeritus, Hofstra University

• “A significant contribution to the study of madness.”—Dr. Peter Morrall, visiting associate professor in health sociology, University of Leeds, UK