chapter  15
27 Pages

Mental Illness and the Urban Poor: Psychiatric Institutions and the Singularity of Lives

WithVeena Das, Rajan Bhandari, Simi Bajaj

The relation between madness and modernity is a classic site for exploring a diverse set of questions ranging from ideas about popular culture to the nature of the bio-political state. As astute observers of the relation between madness and modernity have observed, one pole of the cultural ambivalence towards madness is stigmatization and abuse while the other pole is the overvaluation of madness as containing the potential for critique and creativity. The stigmatization and abuse of those characterized as insane and assigned to asylums came to light in the USA and Western Europe after the Second World War through the labors of conscientious objectors in the war who were assigned as attendants in mental asylums and who later documented their shocking findings of how the insane were treated (Erb 2006). Paradoxically the post-war period was also characterized by experimentations on the representation of madness in the cinematic medium and especially the space-time dislocations said to be typical of the schizophrenic experience. The critic René Lauram has coined the term schizophilia to capture the experimentation with madness in the avant-garde movement in the arts (as cited in Statsny 1998: 90). Similarly, Louis Sass saw an intimate connection between modernity and madness and argued that schizophrenic mentality mirrors practically every aspect of modernist sensibility and style (Sass 1992).