FIVE
On the 'Universality" of Madness: Bessie Head's A Question of Power

Let us burst into history, forcing it by our invasion into universality for the first time. Jean Paul Sartre, preface to Frantz Fanon The Wretched of the Earth, 1961

You know, my friend, a combination such as I of two nations finally establishes the human race. "Bessie Head, letter to Randolph Vigne, 31 October 1968", A. Gesture of Belonging: Letters from Bessie Head 1965-1979, 1991

It is difficult, in recent debate about literary studies, to avoid the problem of universality. How come the critic can now hear the hitherto silenced or neglected if, as the argument has gone, belief in the possibility of universal communication, across national and cultural boundaries, masked a moment of self-aggrandizing blindness? From where can such a critic listen without reproducing the epistemological privilege of the West? What happens when the discourse of universality is claimed by a voice which, according to the first analysis, was necessarily ruled out of its frame? Might the claim that 'universality' is always Western privilege in fact generate the very exclusion it is designed to contest?

The title of this chapter is therefore deliberately provocative. It contains two words--universality and madness--which are, to say the least, problematic and contentious. I put universality in scare quotes, but madness calls in many ways for equal if not greater caution. I start by assuming that to qualify the first immediately throws a critical light on the second. This chapter tries to address the hesitancy and awkwardness of both terms for

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States of Fantasy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction States of Fantasy 1
  • Part One the Clarendon Lectures 17
  • One in the Land of Israel 19
  • Two Black Hamlet 38
  • Three the English at Their Best 56
  • Four Just, Lasting, Comprehensive 78
  • Part Two the Limits of Culture 97
  • Five on the 'Universality" of Madness: Bessie Head's a Question of Power 99
  • Six Dorothy Richardson and the Jew 117
  • Afterword Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture 133
  • Notes 150
  • Index 171
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