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^Intentionality and Insanity: Some Lessons from Reflections on Art Thomas Szasz I Because art is much older than psychiatry, the artist has had a big jump on insanity. Indeed, artists, especially poets and writers, have always shown a good deal of interest in madness. As soon as psychiatry appeared on the scene of history, psychiatrists returned the compliment by showing a keen interest in art. Before long, it became a truism that there is a close—albeit mysterious—connection between madness and art.1 The "mad artist," like the "mad genius," may be a creation of the human imagination; nevertheless, the figure of the insane artist, like the idea of insanity itself, now seems very real to most people. Although no one can define madness, most people believe that they can tell a madman, especially a mad artist, when they see one. And while people usually disagree vehemently about who is a mad artist— one person's madness being another person's sanity, and vice versa— virtually everyone believes that some artists are mad and some madmen are artists. One person will thus nominate Vaslav Nijinski as an example, another Vincent Van Gogh, and still another Ezra Pound, while each is likely to proclaim the sanity of the other nominees. Although I do not think this is a very satisfactory state of affairs, most people view the examples I have cited (and others like them) as irrefutable evidence of the reality and validity of the construct called "the mad artist." If we peer behind the mystifying and mysterious facade of the mad artist, we quickly discover an interesting connection between art and insanity. This connection pivots around the fundamental idea of intentionality—art being viewed as quintessentially intentional, and insanity as quintessentially non-intentional. INTENTIONALITY AND INSANITY II Ever since the ancient Greeks, philosophers have emphasized that what distinguishes us as human beings from other living things is that we act. The idea of the person as moral agent thus presupposes and includes the idea of intentionality. But what, exactly, does it mean to assert that we act? It means realizing that our life is inherently, inexorably social: we act in the double sense that we behave and perform. "[TJo be isolated," Hannah Arendt emphasizes, "is to be deprived of the capacity to act."2 However, Arendt overstates the case. The socially isolated individual—for example, the shipwrecked person or the social outcast—is deprived of his ability to act only in the sense that he has no opportunity to perform before an audience; he is not deprived of his ability to act in the sense that he retains his capacity to engage in coordinated, goal-directed behavior. The classic Greek idea of what it means to be human thus recognized the thoroughly social-verbal nature of "human nature": everything we do is an act, a performance before others as well as ourselves. Thus, to be fully human, a person must possess both the capacity to act and the opportunity to perform before an audience that legitimizes him as capable of acting and worthy of attention. Accordingly, a person can lose or be deprived of his humanity in two basically different , but complementary, ways: by lacking or losing the capacity to act in the sense of doing, which is why children, the very old, and the very sick are often not considered to be (fully) human; or by lacking or being deprived of the opportunity to act in the sense of performing on the stage of life, which is why the poor and the mentally ill are often not considered to be (fully) human. Moreover, this is why the powerless—women, slaves, mental patients—are forced either to abandon their performing selves or to resort to dramatic anti-social acts (usually classified as crime or madness) to assert them. What has all this got to do with art or madness? And why do we connect art with madness? Viewed as performances by moral agents, art and madness are (or, more precisely, are defined as) the words and deeds of persons designated as artists or madmen. How else would we know that a person is an artist, if not for his...


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