Imagine Madness: Madness, Revolution, Ressentiment and Critical Theory
Bell, Emma (2008) Imagine Madness: Madness, Revolution, Ressentiment and Critical Theory In: Inter-disciplinary.Net 1st Global Conference. Madness: Probing the Boundaries, September 2008, Mansfield College, Oxford. (Unpublished)
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This paper focuses on a short passage by Nietzsche on the reciprocity between revolution and madness: ‘those men irresistibly drawn to throw off the yoke of any kind of morality and to frame new laws had, if they were not actually mad, no alternative but to make themselves or pretend to be mad’ (Daybreak, §I:14) The paper explores how from romanticism, through avant-gardism, to contemporary critical theory, some who sought to ‘make it new’ have willed madness as a means of liberation and revenge, sanctifying madness as a politically, aesthetically, and ontologically subversive way of being. Nietzsche then asks: ‘do you understand why it had to be madness that did this?’, and ‘how can one make oneself mad when one is not mad?’ In response, the paper identifies the function that the words ‘madness’, ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘hysteria’ perform in the work of avant-gardists including Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, and Andrè Breton, and the radical theorists they influenced including Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, and Helene Cixous. These thinkers equivalently imagine madness as the condition of existential and ontological authenticity that therefore precedes socialisation. If the perceived loss of self in mental illness is the negation of subjection and alienation, it promises a more devastating loss of the self - individual, innate, unified. So madness is the psychic precondition of social revolution: psychopathology as a politics. The paper concludes that this will to madness is a certain leftist political moral urge equivalent to what Nietzsche called the angry melancholia of ressentiment - the moralistic attachment to suffering that spends its will to protest in (ironically) self-alienation and synthetic ‘ecstasies of delirium and mental suffering’. Ultimately, radically imagined madness is a captivatingly narcissistic image of subversion and radical difference that is made to reflect the revolutionary’s own ideals of existential authenticity, ingenuous creativity, and social revolution.
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