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‘The Other Side of Reason’: Madness/Philosophy/Literature

Key information

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Module description

For French philosopher Michel Foucault European thought has long been determined, as if invisibly, by the great division that separates reason from its other. Madness has been one of the names for this other, such that we may be justified in referring to reason, the cornerstone and armature of philosophy and of conceptual thought, as 'non-madness'. This module takes a broad and largely interdisciplinary and critical approach to the question of the 'other side of reason'; complementing other modules in the Faculty which focus on madness as a cognitive disorder and its treatment, this module is guided by an effort to reach and to engage with the form and expression of madness in writing, as well as on philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches which have striven to valorise and embrace the expressions of the 'mad' and to deploy them critically in subversion of the claims of normative reason. Madness is an essentially interdisciplinary object insofar as it is a point of convergence of a plurality of discourses and philosophical models; this module will focus on those which adopt a critical approach to the normative conceptions around this question. The category of 'literature' is crucial to this enquiry insofar as, especially in recent critical theory and philosophy, it has occupied a similarly contested and fraught space, but also to the extent that certain texts, whether recognisable under the institutional and disciplinary category of 'literature', express, articulate or circle around the experience of madness, thus occupying and traversing the boundaries between madness and reason, to the extent that it is guaranteed by the structure of language. Fundamental reorganisations or disturbances of language have been thought and understood as transgressions and reconfigurations of reason, and certain literary texts, those of Sade, Nerval, Artaud, Joyce, Louis Wolfson, constitute an alternative canon of the literature 'of' madness. In addition, we will explore relevant psychoanalytic writing on madness, according to the different categories which have been applied to it in broad terms (e.g. psychosis, schizophrenia, delirium), as well as instances where literary or other forms of written expression have provided the material for 'case studies', from Freud in particular. The limits of the psychoanalytic framework will also be explored.

While primary reading material for the module may alter in different years in which it is taught, it will as a rule include both philosophical or theoretical texts which bear upon madness, for which it is a troubling object, critical considerations, such as those by Michel Foucault, of the history of the category of madness and its relation to reason, and psychoanalytical material in the form of case studies or literary analyses which embody a psychoanalytic perspective. 

Assessment details

1 x 4000 word essay (100%); 1 x seminar presentation (non-assessed)

Educational aims & objectives

  • To introduce students to an essential aspect of the intellectual history of European thought and its implications
  • To develop and sustain a broad knowledge of significant philosophical approaches to madness in modern thought
  • To develop an advanced understanding and critical appreciation of the relations between philosophy, literature and madness
  • To introduce students to significant approaches to the phenomenon and the conceptual category of madness in psychoanalysis and psychiatry
  • To give students the tools for critical analysis of texts, literary and otherwise, which arise from or relate to the experience or concept of madness
  • To encourage students to develop their own conceptual and methodological approaches to the question of madness, across the interlinked domains of philosophy and literature
  • To develop students' capacities in the in-depth analysis of complex literary and conceptual texts
  • To support students in the construction of their own intellectual pathways across a set of theoretical and literary texts and specifically in the completion of extended written analyses and discussions

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate practical and intellectual skill appropriate to a level 7 module. In particular they will:

  •  Have a broad and deep knowledge of key texts and problematics relating to philosophy, literature and madness in European thought in the modern period
  • Have grasped the dominant arguments concerning the relation between 'reason' and 'madness', particularly as negotiated in literary texts
  • Have incorporated the tools for a critical appreciation of the institutional and normative frameworks for the understanding and treatment of madness
  • Be able to develop and sustain complex written arguments and analyses of theoretical and literary texts

Teaching pattern

One 2-hour seminar weekly

Suggested reading list

NB. Primary material will be provided as PDFs except for the first two titles in bold, of which you should purchase your own copies.

  • Artaud, Antonin, Artaud the Mômo, trans. by Clayton Eshleman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020)
  • Artaud, Antonin, Radio Works 1946-1948, trans. by Clayton Eshleman, Introduction by Ros Murray (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022)
  • David-Ménard, Monique ‘Kant’s “An Essay on the Maladies of the Mind” and “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime”’ Hypatia 15: 4 (2000) pp. 82 – 98.
  • Deleuze, Gilles (1990), ‘Thirteenth Series of the Schizophrenic and the Little Girl’ in The Logic of Sense, trans. by Mark Lester (London: Athlone Press), pp. 82-93.
  • Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II (London: Bloomsbury, 2013) [Extracts]
  • Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia I (London: Bloomsbury, 2013) [Extracts]
  • Derrida, Jacques, ‘Cogito and the History of Madness’ in Writing and Difference trans. Alan Bass (London & New York: Routledge), pp. 36–76.
  • Derrida, Jacques, ‘Maddening the Subjectile’ in Yale French Studies, No. 84, Boundaries: Writing & Drawing (1994), pp. 154-171.
  • Derrida, Jacques, Artaud the Moma (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017) [Extracts]
  • Felman, Shoshana, Writing and Madness (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003) [Extracts]
  • Foucault, Michel (2006), History of Madness, trans. by Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa (London: Routledge) [Extracts]
  • Freud, Sigmund (2003), The Schreber Case, trans. Andrew Webber (London: Penguin).
  • Freud, Sigmund, ‘Delusion and Dreams in Jensen’s Gradiva’ in The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol 9: Jensen's "Gradiva" and Other Works.
  • Freud, Sigmund, The Uncanny, trans. by Hugh Haughton (London: Penguin)
  • Hoffman, E.T.A, The Sandman, trans. by Peter Wortsman (London: Penguin, 2016)
  • Jensen, Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fantasy (any edition)
  • Kofman, Sarah, Freud and Fiction (Cambridge: Polity Press 1991) [Extracts].
  • Kristeva, Julia (1998), ‘The Subject in Process’ in P. ffrench and R.F. Lack (eds.) The Tel Quel Reader, trans. by Patrick ffrench (London: Routledge), pp. 133-78 Ross, Alison, ‘Introduction to Monique David-Ménard on Kant and Madness’, Hypatia 15; 4 (2000), pp. 77 – 81.
  • Schreber, Daniel Paul (2008), Memoirs of my Nervous Illness (New York: New York Books). [Extracts.]
  • Zizek, Slavoj, ‘In Defence of Hegel’s Madness’ <<>>
  • Zizek, Slavoj, ‘Cogito in the History of Madness’<<>>
Module description disclaimer

King’s College London reviews the modules offered on a regular basis to provide up-to-date, innovative and relevant programmes of study. Therefore, modules offered may change. We suggest you keep an eye on the course finder on our website for updates.

Please note that modules with a practical component will be capped due to educational requirements, which may mean that we cannot guarantee a place to all students who elect to study this module.

Please note that the module descriptions above are related to the current academic year and are subject to change.