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230348 Constructing and Representing Mental Illness (S) (WiSe 2019/2020)

Inhalt, Kommentar

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

Teilnahmevoraussetzungen, notwendige Vorkenntnisse

This seminar is opened for the advanced modules VM 2.4, VM 5.2, and VM 5.3. You should have completed BM2 and either PM2 or PM3; or have other previous experience with theory-guided analysis of culture and literature.


Any other main reading will be updated in due time.

Update, June 25th:

For this seminar you are required to read (buy/obtain a copy of) the following two novels and short story (which will be uploaded on Lernraum):

- Junot Díaz, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," (2007)
- Ishmael Reed, "Mumbo Jumbo," (1972)
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper," (1892)

You are also required to watch the following movie and tv show:

- Split (2016)
- The Handmaid's Tale (2017-present, however, we are going to watch and discuss season 1)

Theoretical reading material will be made available at the beginning of the semester.


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Modul Veranstaltung Leistungen  
23-ANG-AngVM2 Vertiefungsmodul 2: The Americas/ Interamerican Studies VM 2.4 The Americas: InterAmerican Studies / Spanish Language Acquisition Studienleistung
veranstaltungsübergreifend benotete Prüfungsleistung Studieninformation
23-ANG-AngVM5 Vertiefungsmodul 5: Theories & Ideologies VM 5.2 Literary Theory Studienleistung
VM 5.3 Cultural Theory Studienleistung
veranstaltungsübergreifend benotete Prüfungsleistung Studieninformation
30-MGS-5 Hauptmodul 4: Körper und Gesundheit Seminar 1 Studienleistung
Seminar 2 Studienleistung
benotete Prüfungsleistung

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