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The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory (International Perspectives in Philosophy and Pychiatry) [Paperback]

Angela Woods
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Book Description

November 1, 2011 0199583951 978-0199583959 1
Schizophrenia has been one of psychiatry's most contested diagnostic categories. It has also served as a metaphor for cultural theorists to interpret modern and postmodern understandings of the self. These radical, compelling, and puzzling appropriations of clinical accounts of schizophrenia have been dismissed by many as illegitimate, insensitive and inappropriate. Until now, no attempt has been made to analyse them systematically, nor has their significance for our broader understanding of this most 'ununderstandable' of experiences been addressed.

The Sublime Object of Psychiatry is the first book to study representations of schizophrenia across a wide range of disciplines and discourses: biological and phenomenological psychiatry, psychoanalysis, critical psychology, antipsychiatry, and postmodern philosophy. In part one, Woods offers a fresh analysis of the foundational clinical accounts of schizophrenia, concentrating on the work of Emil Kraepelin, Eugen Bleuler, Karl Jaspers, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. In the second part of the book, she examines how these accounts were critiqued, adapted, and mobilised in the 'cultural theory' of R D Laing, Thomas Szasz, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Louis Sass, Fredric Jameson and Jean Baudrillard. Using the aesthetic concept of the sublime as an organising framework, Woods explains how a clinical diagnostic category came to be transformed into a potent metaphor in cultural theory, and how, in that transformation, schizophrenia came to be associated with the everyday experience of modern and postmodern life.

Susan Sontag once wrote: 'Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance'. The Sublime Object of Psychiatry does not provide an answer to the question 'What is schizophrenia? ', but instead brings clinical and cultural theory into dialogue in order to explain how schizophrenia became 'awash in significance'.

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Editorial Reviews

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I enjoyed reading this book and getting perspectives on schizophrenia different than those I encountered during residency and from psychiatric textbooks which focus primarily on biological theories. I have read various books on the history of psychiatry that included psychoanalytic perspectives on various psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia, none went into as much detail or covered the modern response of early writings like this one does. Doody's The work offers an extensive, worthwhile and informative analysis of the relationship between schizophrenia, postmodern culture and society. Furthermore, it successfully positions itself as the leading elucidation of the tendency among cultural theorists to normalize schizophrenia and pathologize 'normal' subjectivity. Kieran McNally, History of Psychiatry This is a compelling book. It draws widely and is full of novel ideas and interpretations. It definitely shows how varied and disparate are the uses and understandings of the term 'schizophrenia'. It ought to be read, if only to appreciate the cultural history of the term 'schizophrenia'. Femi Oyebode, British Journal of Psychiatry I want to do this complex book justice. It is a very bold project to combine clinical and cultural theory so extensively in answering a question that has generally been ignored about why postmodern theory references schizophrenia...If you're interested in the links between the postmodern notion of 'schizophrenia' and cultural theory, read this book. I think this book should be discussed more widely. Duncan Double, Metapsychology Online Reviews This is a compelling book. It draws widely and is full of novel ideas and interpretations. It definitely shows how varied and disparate are the uses and understandings of the term schizophrenia. It ought to be read, if only to appreciate the cultural history of the term schizophrenia. British Journal of Psychiatry a fascinating journey through the way in which schizophrenia, as a clinical category, cultural metaphor and literary motif, has been mobilized over the past 100 or so years, attempting to demonstrate how and why it holds such non-medical fascination. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, Feb 2013

About the Author


Angela Woods is a Lecturer in Medical Humanities at Durham University. She is an interdisciplinary researcher working at the intersection of cultural theory, literary studies, and philosophy. Her research interests include the study of theoretical and subjective accounts of psychotic experience, narrative identity, and the role of narrative in the medical humanities.

Product Details

  • Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy and Pychiatry
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199583951
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199583959
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 6.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,673,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Nemesis
Format:Paperback
Masterfully conceived and written; bridges disparate contemporary disciplines brilliantly and in illuminating ways.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I apologize for posting before arranging my thoughts, but there's a problem with Amazon's presentation of the reviews of this book. Multiple reviews are mashed together as if they were the rather incoherent rumblings of a single (if interesting) person. This isn't fair to the author, the readers, or the reviewers. Please see my sorting out of the reviewers' texts, which I obtained from the amazon.co.uk entry on the book.

I'm still reading this book and plan to use it in a course I'm teaching this Spring. I'll return after reflecting a bit more on my notes. In the meantime, here's the clearly expressed praise the book has deservedly garnered from others:

"I enjoyed reading this book and getting perspectives on schizophrenia different than those I encountered during residency and from psychiatric textbooks which focus primarily on biological theories. I have read various books on the history of psychiatry that included psychoanalytic perspectives on various psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia, none went into as much detail or covered the modern response of early writings like this one does. (Doody's)

The work offers an extensive, worthwhile and informative analysis of the relationship between schizophrenia, postmodern culture and society. Furthermore, it successfully positions itself as the leading elucidation of the tendency among cultural theorists to normalize schizophrenia and pathologize 'normal' subjectivity. (Kieran McNally, History of Psychiatry)

This is a compelling book. It draws widely and is full of novel ideas and interpretations.
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