Oct 23 2020

LOUIS SASS, “Inward Outward: Reflections on Modernism and Madness”

Art History Colloquium

October 23, 2020

4:00 PM - 6:00 PM




Chicago, IL 60612

Madness and Modernism

Traditionally, insanity has been seen as a form of irrationality, with madness typically viewed as akin to dementia, infantile consciousness, or the condition of a Wildman or perhaps a prophet in the grip of chthonic forces. The idea that too much self-consciousness might be a thoroughgoing illness (to paraphrase Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground) has seldom been taken seriously in psychiatry or clinical psychology.

Louis Sass’s book Madness and Modernism (revised edition OUP 2017) offers just such an interpretation of “schizophrenia-spectrum” conditions. The poorly understood, often enigmatic, signs and symptoms of schizophrenia (the quintessential forms of madness) are compared with forms of experience and expression typical of modernism and postmodernism—the sophisticated, acutely self-conscious art, literature, and thought of the 20th century, in which forms of hyperreflexivity and alienation are prominent. In my talk I will offer an overview of this argument and consider some illuminating parallels between anomalous experiences in schizophrenia and key aspects of modernism and postmodernism in the arts. The book’s primary focus is on madness. Its comparative-phenomenological approach can, however, also clarify some deep affinities underlying diverse esthetic as well as existential inclinations of modernism/postmodernism.

Louis Sass, PhD is Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at Rutgers University and a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities. He is the author of Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought, of The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind, and of many articles on psychopathology, phenomenology, hermeneutics, and psychoanalysis. In 2020, Sass received the Award for Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology from Division 24 of the American Psychological Association. A revised edition of Madness and Modernism (Oxford University Press) was awarded the British Medical Association First Prize as best book in the field of psychiatry for 2018.

For a Zoom link, contact arthistory@uic.edu


UIC Art History

Date posted

Oct 15, 2020

Date updated

Oct 15, 2020