The Thesis of “Madness and Modernism”

“What if madness were to involve not an escape from but an exacerbation of that thoroughgoing illness Dostoevksky imagined [viz. “too much consciousness”]? What if madness, in at least some of its forms, were to derive from a heightening rather than a dimming of conscious awareness, and an alienation not from reason but from the emotions, instincts, and the body?” (Madness and Modernism, 4).

This is roughly the view of madness Chesterton sketches in Orthodoxy (Chesterton does not appear in Sass’s index, interestingly): the madman has not lost his reason, but rather everything else.

Sass develops this proposal ingeniously, by “view[ing] the poorly-understood schizophrenic type illnesses in the light of the sensibility and structure of consciousness found in the most advanced art and literature of the twentieth century, the epoch of modernism…Modernist art has been said to have certain off-putting qualities that are reminiscent of schizophrenia” (8).

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