Dionysus in Literature: Essays on Literary Madness

Dionysus in Literature: Essays on Literary Madness

Dionysus in Literature: Essays on Literary Madness

Dionysus in Literature: Essays on Literary Madness

Synopsis

In this anthology, outstanding authorities present their assessments of literary madness in a variety of topics and approaches. The entire collection of essays presents intriguing aspects of the Dionysian element in literature.

Excerpt

What exactly is meant by "Madness in Literature?" How can this thematic phrase aid in the understanding of literature? Does it refer to the writer, the abnormal behavior of the characters or some nexus? Does it refer to the writings of madmen or the actions of mad protagonists? Is, literary madness similar to the clinical madness of psychology? Or is it closer to anomie, a sociological term for a type of madness in which individuals are alienated from society? How can terminology from psychology be useful in understanding literary characters? Have the concepts of literary madness changed from the ancients to today? In the opening essay of this collection, "Literary Theories and the Concept of Madness," Robert de Beaugrande discusses how literary theories have contributed to concepts of madness. To state that madness and sanity are opposites grossly oversimplifies and omits significant shades of grey. The term madness, whether used in a clinical or literary sense, is a fluid, ambiguous term encompassing many theories.

Madness is common to the human experience. We often complain that people or situations are driving us "mad," or "crazy" or "wild." The insanity of daily existence and of absurd situations can devastate tender psyches. Anger, a reaction to the insanity of the world, can be viewed as a microcosm of madness. We also have obsessions and compulsions deviating from the normal. Psychology and literature both try to explain unusual behavior, and the term "madness" seems to be a particularly useful tool in discussing certain literary characters. Strange, abnormal and deviant actions of literary characters offer an indispensable resource for investigating personality. While psychology and literature have made some significant advances in unlocking secrets of personality, it is nevertheless amazing that certain aspects of personality (What is madness and abnormal behavior? What causes it? How is it treated?) are still baffling, open to semantic debates, and laced with relativity.

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