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American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness
Madness is a sin. The disturbed are shunned. Mental illness is not the church’s problem.
All three claims are wrong.
In Madness, Heather H. Vacek traces the history of Protestant reactions to mental illness in America. She reveals how two distinct forces combined to thwart Christian care for the whole person. The professionalization of medicine worked to restrict the sphere of Christian authority to the private and spiritual realms, consigning healing and care—both physical and mental—to secular, medical specialists. Equally influential, a theological legacy that linked illness with sin deepened the social stigma surrounding the mentally ill. The Protestant church, reluctant to engage sufferers lest it, too, be tainted by association, willingly abdicated care for the mentally ill to secular professionals.
While inattention formed the general rule, five historical exceptions to the pattern of benign neglect exemplify Protestant efforts to claim a distinctly Christian response. A close examination of the lives and work of colonial clergyman Cotton Mather, Revolutionary era physician Benjamin Rush, nineteenth-century activist Dorothea Dix, pastor and patient Anton Boisen, and psychiatrist Karl Menninger maps both the range and the progression of attentive Protestant care. Vacek chronicles Protestant attempts to make theological sense of sickness (Mather), to craft care as Christian vocation (Rush), to advocate for the helpless (Dix), to reclaim religious authority (Boisen), and to plead for the mentally ill (Menninger).
Vacek’s historical narrative forms the basis for her theological reflection about contemporary Christian care of the mentally ill and Christian understanding of mental illness. By demonstrating the gravity of what appeared—and failed to appear—on clerical and congregational agendas, Vacek explores how Christians should navigate the ever-shifting lines of cultural authority as they care for those who suffer.
Analyst and author Ann Belford Ulanov draws on her years of clinical work and reflection to make the point that madness and creativity share a kinship, an insight that shakes both analysand and analyst to the core, reminding us as it does that the suffering places of the human psyche are inextricably—and, often inexplicably—related to the fountains of creativity, service, and even genius. She poses disturbing questions: How do we depend on order, when chaos is a necessary part of existence? What are we to make of evil—both that surrounding us and that within us? Is there a myth of meaning that can contain all the differences that threaten to shatter us?
Ulanov’s insights unfold in conversation with themes in Jung’s Red Book which, according to Jung, present the most important experiences of his life, themes he explicated in his subsequent theories. In words and paintings Jung displays his psychic encounters from1913–1928, describing them as inner images that “burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.”
Responding to some of Jung’s more fantastic encounters as he illustrated them, Ulanov suggests that our problems and compulsions may show us the path our creativity should take. With Jung she asserts that the multiplicities within and around us are, paradoxically, pieces of a greater whole that can provide healing and unity as, in her words, “every part of us and of our world gets a seat at the table.” Taken from Ulanov’s addresses at the 2012 Fay Lectures in Analytical Psychology, Madness and Creativity stands as a carefully crafted presentation, with many clinical examples of human courage and fulfillment.
Ferit Güven illuminates the historically constitutive roles of madness and death in philosophy by examining them in the light of contemporary discussions of the intersection of power and knowledge and ethical relations with the other. Historically, as Güven shows, philosophical treatments of madness and death have limited or subdued their disruptive quality. Madness and death are linked to the question of how to conceptualize the unthinkable, but Güven illustrates how this conceptualization results in a reduction to positivity of the very radical negativity these moments represent. Tracing this problematic through Plato, Hegel, Heidegger, and, finally, in the debate on madness between Foucault and Derrida, Güven gestures toward a nonreducible, disruptive form of negativity, articulated in Heidegger’s critique of Hegel and Foucault’s engagement with Derrida, that might allow for the preservation of real otherness and open the possibility of a true ethics of difference.
How the insane asylum became a laboratory of democracy is revealed in this provocative look at the treatment of the mentally ill in nineteenth-century France. Political thinkers reasoned that if government was to rest in the hands of individuals, then measures should be taken to understand the deepest reaches of the self, including the state of madness. Marcel Gauchet and Gladys Swain maintain that the asylum originally embodied the revolutionary hope of curing all the insane by saving the glimmer of sanity left in them. Their analysis of why this utopian vision failed ultimately constitutes both a powerful argument for liberalism and a direct challenge to Michel Foucault's indictment of liberal institutions.
The creation of an artificial environment was meant to encourage the mentally ill to live as social beings, in conditions that resembled as much as possible those prevailing in real life. The asylum was therefore the first instance of a modern utopian community in which a scientifically designed environment was supposed to achieve complete control over the minds of a whole category of human beings. Gauchet and Swain argue that the social domination of the inner self, far from being the hidden truth of emancipation, represented the failure of its overly optimistic beginnings.
Madness and Democracy combines rich details of nineteenth-century asylum life with reflections on the crucial role of subjectivity and difference within modernism. Its final achievement is to show that the lessons learned from the failure of the asylum led to the rise of psychoanalysis, an endeavor focused on individual care and on the cooperation between psychiatrist and patient. By linking the rise of liberalism to a chapter in the history of psychiatry, Gauchet and Swain offer a fascinating reassessment of political modernity.
The Psychiatrist, the Patient, and the Family in England, 1820-1860
The history of psychiatric institutions and the psychiatric profession is by now familiar: asylums multiplied in nineteenth-century England and psychiatry established itself as a medical specialty around the same time. We are, however, largely ignorant about madness at home in this key period: what were the family’s attitudes toward its insane member, what were patient’s lives like when they remained at home? Until now, most accounts have suggested that the family and community gradually abdicated responsibility for taking care of mentally ill members to the doctors who ran the asylums. However, this provocatively argued study, painting a fascinating picture of how families viewed and managed madness, suggests that the family actually played a critical role in caring for the insane and in the development of psychiatry itself. Akihito Suzuki’s richly detailed social history includes several fascinating case histories, looks closely at little studied source material including press reports of formal legal declarations of insanity, or Commissions of Lunacy, and also provides an illuminating historical perspective on our own day and age, when the mentally ill are mainly treated in home and community.
In 2005, historian Jason Emerson discovered a steamer trunk formerly owned by Robert Todd Lincoln's lawyer and stowed in an attic for forty years. The trunk contained a rare find: twenty-five letters pertaining to Mary Todd Lincoln's life and insanity case, letters assumed long destroyed by the Lincoln family. Mary wrote twenty of the letters herself, more than half from the insane asylum to which her son Robert had her committed, and many in the months and years after.
The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the first examination of Mary Lincoln’s mental illness based on the lost letters, and the first new interpretation of the insanity case in twenty years. This compelling story of the purported insanity of one of America’s most tragic first ladies provides new and previously unpublished materials, including the psychiatric diagnosis of Mary’s mental illness and her lost will.
Emerson charts Mary Lincoln’s mental illness throughout her life and describes how a predisposition to psychiatric illness and a life of mental and emotional trauma led to her commitment to the asylum. The first to state unequivocally that Mary Lincoln suffered from bipolar disorder, Emerson offers a psychiatric perspective on the insanity case based on consultations with psychiatrist experts.
This book reveals Abraham Lincoln’s understanding of his wife’s mental illness and the degree to which he helped keep her stable. It also traces Mary’s life after her husband’s assassination, including her severe depression and physical ailments, the harsh public criticism she endured, the Old Clothes Scandal, and the death of her son Tad.
The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the story not only of Mary, but also of Robert. It details how he dealt with his mother’s increasing irrationality and why it embarrassed his Victorian sensibilities; it explains the reasons he had his mother committed, his response to her suicide attempt, and her plot to murder him. It also shows why and how he ultimately agreed to her release from the asylum eight months early, and what their relationship was like until Mary’s death.
This historical page-turner provides readers for the first time with the lost letters that historians had been in search of for eighty years.
On Baroque Aesthetics
A Memoir of Our Immigrant Lives
New Approaches to Understanding an Ancient Maya Manuscript
“The Madrid Codex offers a new and nuanced understanding of one of the few surviving Maya hieroglyphic books, a porthole into the ancient Maya mind and a poignant reminder of how much was in a world now lost. [It is] a barrage of scholarship from leading scholars in everything from iconography to archaeoastronomy. . . . The Madrid Codex, on the basis of the impressive scholarship in every chapter of this book, now takes its place as a crucial document of this cultural ferment and fusion." —Antiquity
This volume offers new calendrical models and methodologies for reading, dating, and interpreting the general significance of the Madrid Codex. The longest of the surviving Maya codices, this manuscript includes texts and images painted by scribes conversant in Maya hieroglyphic writing, a written means of communication practiced by Maya elites from the second to the fifteenth centuries A.D. Some scholars have recently argued that the Madrid Codex originated in the Petén region of Guatemala and postdates European contact. The contributors to this volume challenge that view by demonstrating convincingly that it originated in northern Yucatán and was painted in the Pre-Columbian era. In addition, several contributors reveal provocative connections among the Madrid and Borgia group of codices from Central Mexico.
Jayne Eyre, Discourse, Disability
This breakthrough volume of critical essays on Jane Eyre from a disability perspective provides fresh insight into Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel from a vantage point that is of growing academic and cultural importance. Contributors include many of the preeminent disability scholars publishing today, including a foreword by Lennard J. Davis. Though an indisputable classic and a landmark text for critical voices from feminism to Marxism to postcolonialism, until now, Jane Eyre has never yet been fully explored from a disability perspective. Customarily, impairment in the novel has been read unproblematically as loss, an undesired deviance from a condition of regularity vital to stable closure of the marriage plot. In fact, the most visible aspects of disability in the novel have traditionally been understood in rather rudimentary symbolic terms—the blindness of Rochester and the “madness” of Bertha apparently standing in for other aspects of identity. The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre, Discourse, Disability, resists this traditional reading of disability in the novel. Informed by a variety of perspectives—cultural studies, linguistics, and gender and film studies—the essays in this collection suggest surprising new interpretations, parsing the trope of the Blindman, investigating the embodiment of mental illness, and proposing an autistic identity for Jane Eyre. As the first volume of criticism dedicated to analyzing and theorizing the role of disability in a single literary text, The Madwoman and the Blindman is a model for how disability studies can open new conversation and critical thought within the literary canon.