Madness Itself: the Real Story
The search for ‘madness itself’, for ‘really’ knowing what madness is, or was, or will be, for the ‘truly insane’, in language, in appearance, in art, in behaviour, or for what I refer to earlier as ‘the wholeness of contemporary insanity’, is long, teasing and irresistible, as peopled by look-alikes as the fields of Troy, as strewn with casualties, as lined by mirrors as any dressing-room or picture gallery, and as encumbered by ham performances as any eighteenth-century stage or inn. Carrying conviction, Garrick-like, or arresting or moving the viewer, like Fuseli or Gillray, takes us some way, but only as far as the conventions of an artistic mode allow, albeit conventions that in Garrick’s case were being rewritten through the medium of his career. Disbelief may be willingly suspended, but we are still faced with what is at bottom a performance, either of lines on a page that get up and speak or of crafting with colour, shape and movement. If these are ‘madness itself’, then they are so only because we recognise the deceptions of these forms and agree to take them as truth. Can we, therefore, only ‘really’ know what madness was through the medium of an art? Is the ‘representation’ that is already a ‘representation’ in fact all that there is, the only way in which this particular ‘illness’, which we join in calling ‘madness’, can be shared and essentially known? Is an understanding of ‘disease’ the best we can do?
KeywordsEighteenth Century Cultural Construction Artistic Mode Tender Thought Real Story
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