Mental illness has often been understood as a source of creativity. My dissertation reverses this familiar claim and argues that “madness” is itself a created thing, constructed and modeled in the lives and work of the poets who both inhabited and helped to constitute postwar culture. Without denying that the conditions suffered by the poets whom I consider were real, I argue that those conditions were crucially determined by such mediating contingencies as politics, history, and indeed the very critical discourse and poetry of which their afflictions were more commonly thought the source. I resist the temptation to treat creativity as a pathology and poems as symptoms and argue instead that madness figures so prominently in postwar culture not because of any special powers that it confers but because of the various ways in which it is mythologized in and by that culture. Madness becomes a mid-century version of the muse.
Pound's insanity, first articulated in contemporary newspaper and magazine debates about his wartime treason, and then legally re-inscribed in the legal finding of his “unsound mind,” overlapped in the years following the war with the quasi-professionalism of the young Consultants in Poetry to the Library of Congress to institutionalize a figure of the postwar poet that was fundamentally split. Robert Lowell, himself one of the Consultants, was at the same time a kind of translation of Pound, and the literal institutions of postwar poetic culture modeled the rhetorical structures that produced rather than described his breakdowns. For John Berryman and Weldon Kees, poetic acts of disappearance prefigured literal suicides. Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, a generation removed from Lowell, Berryman, and Bishop, live madness as performance and set the stage for the persistent recurrence of the figures of postwar poetic madness.
|School Location:||United States -- Connecticut|
|Source:||DAI-A 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Keywords:||Berryman, John, Lowell, Robert, Madness, Plath, Sylvia, Poetry, Postwar|
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