If you think about it, how do you express that you are not feeling well and/or suffer from a (certain) (mental) illness? Of course, you put it into words and construct a narrative as a means by which you and we communicate our corporeal experience to medical professionals and the people around us. In so doing, we adhere to the rules of storytelling: stable, coherent, ordered, rational thoughts. Oftentimes, stories are a means by which we heal and cope. But how do we narrate an illness that we do not understand and/or have troubles finding words to narrate? How do we narrate an illness that is invisible, does not inflict physical pain but rather a pain impacting us psychologically, mentally and emotionally? How do we narrate irrationally, unstable, incoherent, unordered without the stigma of “crazy” and the ivory tower that made/makes up the rules for “good” storytelling that we study? How do we but make total “sense?”
Illness is always culturally constructed and, as such, we must recognize and analyze a text whose meanings emerge through a particular cultural context, stigmas, and beliefs. Mental illness is a frequent motif in literary texts, acting as a source of tension that needs to be resolved, used as a metaphor or symbol invoked as a symptom of conquests, either derived from European conquest in the Americas, im/migration, or gendered and sexualized mores.
In this seminar, then, we try to gain a theoretical understanding of the depictions of mental illnesses in fictional products, what they might actually mean, and what purpose they serve. We will approach mental illness not as a fixed classification. We will ponder questions of construction and representation of mental illnesses through a variety of lenses and try to build a framework that treats the products and the representation and construction of mental illnesses against the means with, what Frantz Fanon reminds us, one being neither “‘objectif[ied], […] confin[ed], […] imprison[ed], […] harden[ed]’” (qtd. in “What Fanon still Teaches us about Mental Illness in Post-Colonial Societies”).
We will look at cultural products constructing and representing mental illness(es), either dealing with a diagnosis or without. This class includes reading (at least) two novels and watching a movie and a TV show. Theoretical texts will be made available in the Lernraum towards the beginning of the semester and the reading/watching list will be announced in due time. Please note that this is a theory class embedded in VM 2.4 and VM 5.2/.3. This class covers identity, gender, narrative and (de-)colonial practices and politics in an interAmerican sense, i.e., the entanglements between the diasporas, homelands, and hegemonic North America.
This class is supervised by Prof. Dr. Julia Roth