This book “endeavor(s) to present a rich miscellany of the experience of madness from the viewpoints of numerous parties: psychiatrists, nurses, friends, family, writers, artists, theologians and philosophers.” The writings span several centuries and vary from a couple of pages to the occasional well-placed one-liner (for instance, in the section on depression, Susan Sontag writes: “Depression is melancholy minus its charms”).
What could have been a tedious discussion of the various aspects of mental illness is rendered with deft editing into a seamless train of varied ideas. There are 19 major categories, many devoted to a single malady (possession, delusion, depression, etc.). The editor has managed to tie together the various accounts and perspectives with a sentence or two between each entry so that each section flows together as if the individual writers had been discoursing among themselves. He has a special knack for punctuating the dry and serious with a bit of Sylvia Plath or Woody Allen. There are also contributions from Charlotte Brontë, Antonin Artaud, Nietzsche, Poe and William Seabrook. SA
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Paperback: 572 pages