Modernism and Sass’s Madness

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It is becoming obvious that the dispute over the limits of rationality is central to numerous developments in modernism. In Western society, madness is a contradictory term that is typically regarded as a release from the usual constraints of reasonable, productive, conventional thought. It has been linked to death, sickness, and demonic forces, among other things. Many people define insanity as a deceptive, inaccurate, and flawed point of view in comparison to normal rational norms. People have always considered it as a malfunction, a lack of reason, and a dopamine deficiency. Clinical psychologist Sass defines insanity as "irrationality; a condition involving decline or even disappearance of the role of rational factors in the organization of human conduct and experience” (Sass 1).

Sass does not view madness as the simple failure of reason, neither does he endeavor to romanticize it as an inspired substitute of reason. He argues that illusions of people with schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder that affects how people act, think, and feel, are not failures of reasoning, but of contrary feeling. Madness, in his view, “is to be sure, a self-deceiving condition, but one that is produced from within rationality rather than by the loss of rationality” (Sass 2). Sass creates an ambitious concept in his pursuit to relate madness to modernism. He construes schizophrenic symptomatology in a more significant humanistic prospect using a broad knowledge of modern writing and art.

Sass ‘s well-documented book; Madness and Modernism, views the misunderstood schizophrenic-type diseases taking into consideration sensibility and formations of consciousness observed in the most sophisticated art and literature of the 20th century. According to Sass, modernist art is said to manifest specific repellant features that are evocative of schizophrenia (8). He uses certain criteria as modes of comparisons. Sass ascertains that there are seven features that modern art shares with schizophrenia, which is a form of madness.

The first characteristic of modernism that is also associated with madness is its negativism and anti-traditionalism. This feature includes “its defiance of authority and convention, its antagonism or indifference to the expectations of its audience and on occasion its rage for chaos” (Sass 29). Anti-traditionalism is seen when people crave to escape established languages and pursue subjects of expressions yet to be discovered. It is a typical human behavior in early and high modernism where conventions are accepted and exaggerated in various forms of imitations and parody. Modernism has been characterized by a different mindset toward tradition that has lately come to the forefront under the pennant of postmodernism. An example of negativism and rebellion are witnessed in a dada polemicist like Tristan Tzara who spoke of art as a private affair.

The second feature Sass finds in “many modernist, and postmodernist works are the uncertainty or multiplicity of their point of view” (30). There are those works that lure people’s attention to the presence of certain viewpoint thus, exhibiting an acknowledgment of the inescapable limitedness of that view as well as work that try to exceed such limits. Examples are William Faulkner’s lytic cubist painting, ‘the sound and the fury’ and Virginia Woolf’s impressionists’ paintings and novels like ‘Mrs. Dalloway’.

The third aspect is dehumanization, or the disappearance of active self that includes a loss of one’s self-sense of unison and its ability for effectual of the intended action. Sass argues that the loss of self is the polar inverse of ‘the romantic cult of self.’ (31). Impersonal subjectivism, a form of dehumanization is common in novels by Nathalie Sarraute and Ford Madox Ford. In this aspect, there is disintegration from within that eradicates reality and leaves the self an ordinary occasion for the surging of independent skewed events. Another form of dehumanization is objectivism which is demonstrated in the Alaine Robbe’s fiction called ‘Grillet.’

The fourth feature is the loss of substantial external reality that stress either on the failure of the sense that reality is outward or on the loss of realism’s aura of meaning. In short, it is, “the world seems to be 'derealized'” (Sass 32). In many works of the modernists and postmodernists, the world seems robbed of its substantiality and its ontological position as an entity autonomous of the observing subject. The fifth aspect is the change in the sense of spatial form that says that certain traditional ways of organizing literary works become less viable.” There may be a loss of narrative structure or logical development within a work, either of which would suggest the possibility of “meaningful historical a central unifying principle” (34).

The six aspect of modernity that is similar to schizophrenia is derealization and the ‘unworlding’ of the world. “Mimesis of external reality, an evocation of a spiritual beyond and any ethical or intellectual message all seem to have lost their ability to compel commitment or belief” (Sass 34). The final aspect of modern art that is parallel to madness is irony and detachment. Sass points out that it is only in this modern era that people find works of art to pour scornful laughter to the whole existence instead of communicating (36). The spirit of detachment, unremitting criticism, and subversion has been turned on both life and art. Even though Sass’s Madness and Modernism strives to outline the definite parallelism in the two, it does not mean that madness is never negatively implied in modernist literature.

Work Cited

Sass, Louis Arnorsson. Madness and modernism: Insanity in the light of modern art, literature, and thought. Basic Books, 1992.

April 26, 2023

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