Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought [Book Review]

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Madness and Modernism is undoubtedly one of the most profound and perspicacious treatments of an illness that is utterly baffling to most laypersons and academics alike. Sass artfully brings together two obscure, complex, and unnerving realms -- the schizophrenic and the modern and postmodern aesthetic -- into mutual enlightenment. The comparisons between schizophrenic symptoms such as loss of ego boundaries, perspectival switching, and world catastrophe with modern literature and art is so adroit that it is almost eerie. The reader finds herself peering into a borderline incomprehensible realm with increasing levels of clarity, by which she gains insight into the utterly chaotic, confused, and bizarre. The lucidity Sass brings to the obscure and confused is a reflection of the many contradictions he introduces to his readers as being entirely paradigmatic of both madness and modernism: that of desiring human contact but also shunning it entirely, of being both afflicted by disease but also exercising a sort of agency, and indeed, an ideal intellectual freedom within the confines of such an affliction, of moving both towards an objectifying materiality of the external world and a total subjectivization of perception, of the tendency towards the hyperabstract and the utterly concrete (between being too "far away" or "too close," respectively). Sass is able to make sense of a world in which these contradictions exist side by side simultaneously, and the disconcerting confusion this causes is palpable to the reader. Sass demonstrates not only his penetrating intellect, but also his unwavering patience and empathy, both in the treatment of the subject matter and the treatment of the subjects suffering from this extraordinary illness. The book is required reading for anyone interested in phenomenological psychiatry, or even psychiatry more generally.
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