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Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought Paperback – 1994

14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Does the schizophrenic's chaotic inner world resemble modern art and literature? Sass, a clinical psychologist and Rutgers professor, argues that schizophrenia and modernism display striking affinities: fragmentation, defiance of authority, multiple viewpoints, self-referentiality and rejection of the external world in favor of an omnipotent self or, alternately, a total loss of self. While the parallels he draws often seem superficial, there is much to ponder in Sass's notion that schizophrenia's core traits are exaggerations of tendencies fostered by our culture. This dense, startling work examines schizophrenic inauthenticity in light of the thought of Nietzsche, that champion of self-invention and the mask. Sass analyzes Kafka's introversion, Baudelaire's esthetics of disdain, Alfred Jarry's robotlike persona and the loss of self suffered by Antonin Artaud, a diagnosed schizophrenic. Further, he likens schizophrenics' deviant language to the prose of Rimbaud, Sartre, Beckett and Barthes. Photos.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


In this fascinating book...Sass sets out in largely uncharted directions...Displaying an impressive command of philosophical, literary and clinical literature on subjects of enormous complexity...[he] arrives at some highly original and profoundly disquieting insights. (Brigitte Berger New York Times Book Review)

This marvelous book...provides the richest description of the schizophrenic's inner world since R. D. Laing's deservedly classic The Divided Self...An inspired documentation of the interrelationships of modernism, schizophrenia, and our current cultural life. (Richard Restak, M.D. Washington Post Book World)

A monumental, exciting, and troubling book, a new landmark in the study of the modern era. (Kenneth Baker San Francisco Chronicle)

Wholly fascinating...Madness and Modernism is rooted in a thorough knowledge of the psychological literature, but [Sass] also draws on an extensive acquaintance with 19th and 20th-century art, literature and philosophy...Powerful, lucid and original...Should revolutionise our thinking about the workings of the human mind. (Iain McGilchrist London Review of Books)

[A] brilliant study...An important contribution, not only to our understanding of schizophrenia but also to our comprehension of the nature of mental illness in general. (Contemporary Psychology)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 595 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674541375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674541375
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Alexia on August 19, 1997
Format: Paperback
Louis Sass has written a fascinating comparison
of modernism and schizophrenia and related
disorders -- I couldn't put this book down. Sass'
knowledge of modern art and literature, coupled
with his experience as a clinical psychologist and
professor at Rutgers, makes this book. It's
extremely well-written -- the language is complex,
but by no means stilted and academic for the sake
of being academic. Sass' words will catch you and
draw you through fascinating discussions about
identity, language, visual representation, and
much more. He presents balanced observations and makes appropriate connections -- he doesn't
romanticize schizophrenia. One story he relays
expresses this perfectly (pardon my paraphrasing):
James Joyce discussed the creative similarities
between him and his daughter, a schizophrenic,
with Carl Jung. Jung described the difference
between Joyce's creativity and his daughter's
seeming creativity by saying that the difference
was that Joyce was diving down into the depths
while his daughter was falling. This is a perfect
analogy to put Sass' book into perspective.

If you have any interest in issues of identity,
psychology, and modern culture, you will want to
read this book.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By whomi on October 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
With an interpretation so rigorous and self-critical that it is almost cruel, Sass teases out the threads of experience joining madness to modernism. Unlike some who do this sort of work, Sass is well-versed not only in psychology and psychiatry but also in contemporary intellectual discourse, and makes sophisticated use of the work of figures such as Foucault and de Man in his reading. He argues provocatively, using literary, artistic, and autobiographical works as well as empirical data, that schizophrenia is not (as many say) a form of Dionysian primitivity but rather a kind of violent entanglement in the paradoxes of hyperconsciousness. This book is absolutely a must read for anyone interested in schizophrenia or in modernism. Luckily, Sass is a fine writer and makes the book quite an enjoyable read as well.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
The erudite Louis Sass provides insight not only into the experience of schizophrenia but also its expression in modern art. Although his thesis is that schizophrenia is not a regression in mentality but a hypertrophy of consciousness, he never allows the reader to forget that it is still a debilitating illness. His book introduced me to and helped me understand a number of artists and writers, especially Giorgio DiChirico. Not an easy book, but readable and rewarding.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Carl L. Bankston on October 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite books. As a work on psychological styles and the nature of rationality, I rank it right up with The Greeks and the Irrational, by E.R. Dodds. The basic argument is that madness is not irrationality, but extreme and excessive rationality, and that the totalizing reasoning of madness shows parallels to the totalizing reasoning of philosophical, artistic, and literary modernism. This is an intriguing view in its own right, and it is a valuable response to the romanticization of madness by those such as Norman O. Brown, who declared that "schizophrenia is the dissolution of the false boundaries of self."

I do have some reservations about this fascinating argument. First, I don't think Sass ever makes clear the nature of the connection between madness and modernism. Does he see the former as caused by the latter? Are both manifestations of the organization of an industrial society? Second, Sass doesn't seem to recognize that he is actually working within a well-established intellectual tradition. The psychological and aesthetic literature on decadence in the late nineteenth century, as exemplified by Max Nordau's Degeneration, saw both madness and avant-garde artistic expression as products of hypertrophy of the intellect. Third, there may be important differences between the deterministic world of madness and that of modernism. Specifically, the rationality of modernity can be seen as connecting causes and effects on a single surface of reality that neither reflects nor penetrates any other dimension. Madness, on the other hand, seems to work within a rationality of depth, giving thoughts and occurrences a metaphysical resonance.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 19, 1997
Format: Paperback
As an artist and a schizophrenic, I have searched for books comparing the two; this is the first I've found, and it's a good one, as well. The need to create, the ability to see and understand what others can't or don't, is clearly explained. The only reason I give it a 9 instead of a 10 is that it could cover more photography, samples of artist's writings and include areas such as found and insane poetry and naive art.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By sl0re on October 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While growing up I had several friends, and acquaintances, who were diagnosed as having schizoid personalities. I was curious, so I read several books on the subject and this is the only one that actually seemed to line it's theories up with what I knew from personal experience. Namely, that these were people who were hyperconscious. He did well in explaining how this could create distortions in viewpoint rather than enhancements. A few of my friends were even fans of the artists and philosophers referenced in the book as examples. His references to Foucault, his theory of the panopticon, and the empirical and transcendental doublet were also very insightful in explaining his theory.
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