Calls for Papers: Narratives and Mental Health
Call for Contributions to an essay collection to be submitted with Brill, for the new book series Narratives and Mental Health
Ed. Katrin Röder & Cornelia Wächter
This volume explores the history of English, American and Anglophone literary representations of mental distress and its medical investigation and treatment as significant parts of the cultural heritage of psychiatry since the Middle Ages. In line with Aleida Assmann’s approach, the volume perceives cultural heritage as ‘that part of the material and immaterial cultural memory that has been selected and destined for active transfer and circulation’ (2020, 9, transl. K.R.). The Cultural Heritage of Psychiatry and Its Literary Transformations: Middle Ages to the Present (working title) will approach the cultural heritage of psychiatry as a complicated gift that not only connects the past to the present and the future but also links different national and regional cultures in a globalized world (Mills/Fernando 2014; Mills 2014; Fernando 1991). Like all forms of cultural heritage and functional memory, the cultural heritage of psychiatry calls for a responsible use of its components, for their preservation and protection against damage and suppression as well as for perpetual transformation, renewal and change (Assmann: 2013, 330; 2020, 9).
The cultural heritage of psychiatry is often regarded as problematic, Eurocentric, difficult and burdensome, not least because of the long history of medicalization, institutionalized confinement, constraint and abuse of ‘patients’/’users’ and its suppression of western and non-western alternative forms of caring (Foucault 1988; Showalter 1985; Reaume 2010; Lewis 2010; Mills/Fernando 2014; Mills 2014; Punzi 2019, 243-244, 248-249; Punzi/Röder 2019, 197-201). While all cultural heritage is selective and incomplete (Assmann 2008, 106), the fragmentariness of the heritage of psychiatry is to a considerable degree the result of processes of social, political and rhetorical exclusion, that is, of the silencing, suppression, stigmatization, moral condemnation and invalidation of ‘patients’’/’users’ voices/self-presentations in different periods of (inter-/trans-)cultural and intellectual history (Foucault 1988, passim; Showalter 1985, passim; Mills/Fernando 2014; Punzi 2019; Guest Pryal 2010, 479-480).
In this context, literature is assigned a preeminent role as ‘the mnemonic art par excellence’ (Lachmann 2008, 301). As a reintegrative interdiscourse, it simultaneously creates and observes memory, representing a ‘body of commemorative actions that include the knowledge stored by a culture, and virtually all texts a culture has produced and by which a culture is constituted’ (ibid.; Erll 2008, 391). Hence, practices of writing, reading and creative appropriation revolving around the topics of mental distress/madness and forms of treatment performatively construct the cultural memory and cultural heritage of psychiatry. They interact with extant cultural texts in diverse ways, e.g. through convergence, divergence, interrogation, assimilation or repulsion (Lachmann 2008, 301; Neumann 2008, 334, 337-338; Paris 2017). In these interactions, intertextuality plays a central role because it ‘demonstrates the process by which a culture […] continually rewrites and retranscribes itself […]’ (Lachmann 2008, 301).