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Darian Leader: What is madness?


I am trying to blitz read Darian Leader‘s What is madness? today, having started reading a little bit of it over the course of the week on my commute. I have previously read his The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression (Guardian review by Hilary Mantel here), and his idea of depression being any illness invented according to the symptoms ‘anti-depressants’ treat was very interesting to me, although I don’t agree with everything he says, and I’m personally not a huge Freudian. Academically, however, his subjective patient-focused approach appeals to me and ties in well with the sort of thinking about madness, identity and subjectivity that I’m always trying to do. Already I have stumbled across some phrasing that are useful for comparing and contrasting some of the poems I’m writing about in my MA, and I like it when my wider reading cross-pollinates with the academic work that is never not going on somewhere in the back of my head.

Under the fold are simply some of the most interesting bits of the book that leapt out at me whilst I was reading.

Leader explores in great detail the idea that “delusion is less a problem than a solution” to madness, a response that can fulfil the “three crucial Oedipal tasks”, establishing a new meaning/world order, localising the body’s libido, and establishing a distance between the Self and the Other. I think that this ties in in interesting ways with the idea of a society’s ‘dominant fiction’, which acts as a mirror in which individuals are supposed to see themselves. This sort of collective delusion (what is the distinction between delusion and fiction?) is a compelling aspect of nineteenth-century gender identity.

I was also struck by the idea of psychotic individuals as immensely rational and obsessed with finding meaning and order in their surroundings, and of psychosis as potentially “untriggered” or “undetonated”, so that it would not resemble what we might commonly think of psychosis. Similarly, Leader critiques diagnostic methods that focus on surface ‘symptoms’ whilst ignoring the underlying structure and the patient’s relationship with or interpretation of the symptom.

Leader writes about certainty as a key indicator of the presence of psychosis, and the neurotic as always harbouring an internal doubt whenever he professes absolutely certainty. I think this is particularly interesting where political (and other) leaders must always live in fear of the ‘u-turn’ or not ‘putting out a clear message’, or simply making a mistake.


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