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Rose, G.J. (1995). Madness And Modernism. Insanity In The Light Of Modern Art, Literature, And Thought. : By Louis A. Sass. New York: Basic Books, 1992. 595 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 64:613-616.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 64:613-616

Madness And Modernism. Insanity In The Light Of Modern Art, Literature, And Thought. : By Louis A. Sass. New York: Basic Books, 1992. 595 pp.

Review by:
Gilbert J. Rose

Nietzsche: “The growing consciousness is a danger and a disease.” This quotation sets the basic thesis of the book: the hypertrophy of consciousness and consequent devitalization of the schizophrenic experience are extreme manifestations of the modern malaise reflected in modernism and postmodernism.

While the philosophical roots of modernism may go back to Descartes (the world is experienced as a view), Kant is seen as its true source: the obsrver helps both create and curtail the world of perception, making the structures of reality subordinate to those of the knowing subject, and bringing about an unbridgeable gap between the human “phenomenal” realm and actual “noumenal” existence. This has had far-flung and opposite effects: a dizzying sense of power from seeing reality as self-constituted, or a despairing meaninglessness.

In modernism and postmodernism one finds defiant antitraditionalism or alienation, perspectivism and relativism. There is a loss of the self's sense of unity, capacity for effective action and significant external reality. This triple loss results either in impersonal subjectivism or totally nonempathic objectivism. The ego becomes an impotent observer or else is transformed into a machinelike entity in a world of static and neutral objects.

Modernist and postmodernist literary works abandoned traditional forms of organization along lyrical, narrational, or mythic lines and cultivated neutral description, especially of static objects. Aesthetic self-referentiality circles back upon itself, watching itself in action. Irony, disengagement, and scornful laughter are turned on life as well as on art. There is an extreme inwardness or solipsism that would deny all reality and value to the external world or, the opposite, an extreme, alienating materialism devoid of human qualities.


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