Faculty of Arts and PhilosophyErwann Hollevoet“The madman is not always wrong abouteverything”The Transitory Convention of Madness in Arthurian LiteraturePaper submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of “Master of Arts in deHistorische Taal- en Letterkunde”2015 - 2016SupervisorProf. dr. Jurgen PietersDepartment of Literature
Tout ceux dont la vie se passe à chercher la vérité, savent bien que lesimages qu’ils en saisissent sont nécessairement fugitives. Elles brillentun instant pour faire face à des clartés nouvelles et toujours pluséblouissantes. Bien différente de celle de l’artiste, l’œuvre du savant estfatalement provisoire. Il le sait et s’en réjouit, puisque la rapide vieillessede ses livres est la preuve même du progrès de la science.— HenriPirenne
ContentsPreface1Introduction5I. Theoretical Perspectives on Madness9Chapter One: Mad(wo)men: The Theoretical Intersections between Madness andGender11Chapter Two: The Foucault-Derrida Debate: Descartes, Madness, and the Language ofReason172.1 Descartes on Madness172.2 Derrida and Foucault on Descartes22Chapter Three: Madness in the Language of Fiction or the Fiction of Language29Chapter Four: The Madness of Medieval Literature33II. Madness as a Transitory Literary Convention in Medieval ArthurianLiterature39Chapter Five: Anthropological Madness41Chapter Six: The Insanity of Love45Chapter Seven: The Bestiality of Madness53Chapter Eight: The Performativity of the Transitory Period: Deconstruction,Construction, and Reconstruction57Conclusion65Works Cited69(Word count: 22 589)
1PrefaceThis paper is not a work of history, although it does take from it the perspective that allconcepts are historically determined and have to be treated as such; it is not a work ofphilosophy, even though it treats fundamental problems of existence such as reason andlanguage, of which Derrida would argue that they are constitutively intertwined; it is not awork of psychoanalysis, but I do believe that all behaviour has sense and meaning even thatof madmen; it is above all a study of literature and as such it ascribes the literary text aspecific function in history that only such a work of art could hold. I weep for the historianfor whom the literary text is nothing more than a historic artefact or source, the philosopherwho solely employs literature as metaphor, and the psychoanalyst who looks at a literarytext and seeks repression, for the literary text is never one of these conceptualisations, butall at once at the same time. Perhaps, my literary heart weeps the most for Glenn Rohrer aProfessor of Social Work at the university of West Florida. In 2005 he published a bookentitled Mental Health in Literature: Literary Lunacy and Lucidity, which is described by thepublisher as an “engaging and provocative collection of classical and contemporary workscontains poetry, plays, fiction, and autobiography. The works are excellent descriptions andexamples of different forms of mental illness and serve as fascinating alternatives to casestudies” (Back cover), but is in fact a reductive approach that tries to constrain the behaviourof literary characters within the diagnostic frame of the bible of psychiatry, the Diagnosticand Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM: an expansive collection of strictlyidentified and described symptoms according to which mental illnesses are diagnosed andsubsequently medicinally resolved. The psychoanalyst Darian Leader denounces the DSM’spredominance within psychiatry in his book What is Madness?. According to Leader the DSMdefines disorder “in terms of behaviour, so that visible, external aspects of our lives are usedto define clinical categories” with a clear emphasis on “surface and visibility” (31). As suchthe external representations become the categories according to which mental illness isdiscursively ordered: “If you’re nervous and shy, rather than seeing this as the symptoms ofan underlying clinical category to be discovered, it becomes a clinical category in itself:social phobia” (31). The DSM’s focus on the external representations of illness results in thedevaluation of individual experience: “what mattered was the symptoms they had ratherthan how they processed these symptoms, what they made of them, how they bestowedmeaning–or not–on their experience” (31). I believe that such an approach to madness is not
2only reductive for the individual experience of those who struggle with mental illness, butthat it could also problematize the way they function in the world. I see these symptoms notas external manifestations of an internal essence of illness, but as creative ways ofestablishing meaning by people who experience some kind of lack or absence withinthemselves or a discrepancy between their identity and society’s conception of normativity.“The clinician who attempts to graft his own value system and view of normality on to thepatient becomes like the colonizer who seeks to educate the natives. Whether the system issecular and educative or religious, it still bulldozes away the culture and history of theperson it purports to help” writes Leader (6); an imperialism of mental health structuringbehaviour that falls outside of socially accepted normativity. It is precisely this kind ofimperialism that is personified by professor Rohrer in Mental Health in Literature, as he affixesthe categories expressed in the DSM onto literary texts, grafting normativity andanachronistic categories onto literary characters, fashioning them into docile categorisedcase-studies rather than characters expressing identity in a sometimes peculiar but creativemanner. In Rohrer’s work Hamlet becomes a disorganized schizophrenic and Macbethsuffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Within a study of mental illness, literatureshould function as more than mere representation of symptoms, as literature in itself holds a“constitutive relation to madness” (Felman 2): there exists a specific similarity betweenmadness and literature that allows for a characteristically literary expression of madnesswithin literature that can escape categorisation into reductive discourses such as the DSM.Literature allows the often-repressed voice of madness to be heard in a specifically literaryway.Although this is an inquiry into historical literature, it is strongly grounded in thepresent and it tries to offer insights and perspectives that might potentially improve ourunderstanding of madness not as a degenerative affliction but as a creative way ofconstructing meaning. The madness found in medieval literature is certainly a historicallydetermined medieval insanity, but this historical conceptualisation could provide us withimportant insights into our modern world of psychiatry and medicine. “Criticism is aconstruction of the intelligibility of our own time”, writes Roland Barthes (260) and I agreewith his conceptualisation of the role of the critic, for literary studies should always “have avital relation to history and society” (Culler 26). Butler, Foucault, and Derrida are theprimary theoretical voices within this paper, but the underlying motivational current iscertainly influenced by Barthes, as I believe that a literary text should be more than a
3historical artefact, it should provide us with truths and questions about not only thehistorical situation in which it was conceived, but also tell us something about our modernworld and our critical place within it.A venture such as a dissertation is often a lonely struggle between an interested, butoften unstructured mind and a corpus, both theoretical and literary, that hides its substancebehind a shroud of philosophical abstraction or a barrier of historical distance. Therefore,this pursuit of madness would not have been possible without some guidance that helped mesynthesize the disorderly constellation of ideas that existed in my mind into the structuredtotality of a text. My gratitude goes out to: Professor Pieters for ensuring that I in myenthusiasm never deviated too far from my objective and assisting me in making some of myalready intricate theoretical arguments not more complicated than they had to be; ProfessorVanden Broecke for providing me with a plethora of new theoretical insights andperspectives on history and literature in his excellent Theorieën van de cultuurgeschiedeniscourse and for showing me the true meaning of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble; Eline for herceaseless support and tolerance when listening to my abstract ideas and observations onoften metaphysical topics; and my mother for reading and correcting preliminary drafts andoffering all-round guidance.“The madman is not always wrong about everything” writes Derrida. This paperexplores the things that he is not wrong about: the truths hidden behind the madness andthe creative ways of establishing these meanings by a non-normative identity in anormatively structured world.
5IntroductionThe paradoxical nature of studying a reason opposed concept such as madness within adiscursive tradition that is inherently characterised by reason is not lost on me. However, Ido wholeheartedly believe in the functionality of a madness that escapes reductivecategorisation. The success of gender studies has certainly proven that inquiries into nonnormative and at first glance paradoxical identity configurations can provide criticism withimportant new perspectives on the construction of both identity and society. Gender is notthe natural essence that it had once been purported to be, but a highly intricate system ofperformative actions that establish a seemingly natural but certainly arbitrary andconstructed identity, and the marginalized non-normative gender identities existing outsideof the gender-binary deserve reconceptualization as valid configurations of identity. Uponattempting a similar emancipation of madness from the structures of marginalization, onestrikes upon a whole new array of complications and restraints that prevent the true voice ofmadness being heard. Whereas the gender binary is characterized by the exclusion of nonnormative genders, the opposition that exists between madness and reason could hardly bebinary conceptualised as madness becomes inherently excluded by reason, thus invalidatinga true opposition between these two concepts. The deconstruction of binary gender led tothe emancipation of non-normative gender, but how can such a deconstruction beperformed for madness when its antagonist inherently negates its very existence? Foucaultattempts to surmount this exclusion and give madness its true voice by historicallyidentifying its originator as René Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, and bydeconstructing the Cartesian structures that have discursively both constricted and excludedmadness to a marginalized position throughout history. In Cogito and the History of Madness, areaction to Foucault’s History of Madness, Derrida posits the impossibility of discussingmadness in our language, as he believes language to be constitutively characterised byreason even in pre-Cartesian times. Foucault’s conviction and Derrida’s complication arebrought together in Shoshana Felman’s Writing and Madness, wherein she asserts thatliterature is a specific type of language that escapes the constitutive predomination of reasonwithin language and allows for the expression of transgressive concepts such as madness.This paper attempts to neutralize the exclusion of madness by reason by taking atrifold approach to the study of madness. Firstly, as Foucault, I take Descartes to be the mainoriginator of exclusionary discourses on madness. He was certainly not the first to invalidate
6madness based on the dominance of normative reason–as proven by Thomas Aquinas’Summa Theologica wherein he asserts that human’s are inherently reasonable because theywere made in God’s image–but as the founder of modern philosophy his specific exclusionarydiscourse is embedded within the entire subsequent philosophical tradition. To surmountthe Cartesian problematic portrayal of madness I propose an inquiry into the pre-Cartesianconceptualisation of madness in the medieval period and perhaps discover a madnessuntainted by exclusionary reason. Secondly, a historical approach to madness will not beenough as madness threatens to be silenced again if we were to uncritically include it in theCartesian reason-constituted philosophical tradition. As such I propose the application of atheoretical perspective that escapes the traditional Cartesian perspective. Judith Butler’stheory of performativity as expressed in Gender Trouble, criticises the Cartesian tradition forits reliance on the mind/body dualism as it inherently supports relations of subordination.This performative theory could not only be productive within the analysis of gender, as Ibelieve that its application to madness could partially revert madness’s exclusion andprovide madness with a voice, much alike to the non-normative genders that were voicedthrough Butler’s work. The third and final agent within the voicing of the mad becomes theanalysis of not only historically pre-Cartesian texts, but more specifically literary texts, as Ifollow Felman in ascribing literature with a characteristically literary relation to madnessthat allows for its voice to be expressed within literature. Could an inquiry into pre-Cartesianliterary madness through a post-Cartesian theoretical perspective surmount the exclusion ofmadness by reason and potentially express the true voice of madness? What does such anunconstrained madness tell us about humanity, both historical as well as contemporaneous?How could this expressive madness assist us in understanding the construction of both itsown categorisation as marginal category and our own reason constituted identity as opposedto madness?The choice of madness as an object of inquiry is primarily personally motivated, as Itruly believe that the analysis and reconceptualization of marginalized categories can tell usa lot about our own identity. It is only by looking at the margins that our identity revealsitself to be a construction rather than a natural essence. Perhaps madness is the ultimatemarginalized concept, as it is not only excluded but also invalidated in the same motion. It isboth highly transgressive and highly impossible.In referring to the state in which people are combatting with internal problems of themind, I have attempted to utilize the terms ‘madness’ and ‘insanity’, as I believe that these
7terms best retain the transgressive nature of madness. As such I have tried to refrain fromthe inclusion of terms such as ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental health’, because these areinherently restrictive terms that attempt to constrain madness’s transgressive nature withinthe reductive discursive frame of psychiatry.Within the arbitrary notion of medieval literature I have focussed on the Arthuriantradition as its widespread reception proves its significance within the medieval world andprimarily because these chivalrous romances feature a peculiar literary convention in whichmadness is conceptualised as a transitory period through which a selection of knights mustpass in order to attain true virtuous knighthood. I have employed Le Morte D’Arthur byThomas Malory– more specifically Caxton’s 1485 printed edition–because I believe that itsynthesizes the previous Arthurian tradition into a complete Arthurian epic and because itfeatures two of these mad knights that, as a result of moral faults and traumatic experience,must undergo such a transitory period in order to restore their knightly identity. For thespelling of the names of knights, lords, and ladies from the Arthurian tradition I have usedthe one found in Le Morte D’Arthur, even when discussing their representation in other works,except Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, because he is only marginally featured in Malory’s work.
9ITheoretical Perspectives on Madness
11Chapter OneMad(wo)men: The Theoretical Intersectionsbetween Madness and GenderAlthough there are almost as many literary intersections between madness and gender asmadwomen in attics, I will not be discussing the literary relationships between madness andgender, but rather, use the similarities that exist between them on a conceptual level todevelop a better understanding of madness. Both concepts have been critically addressed ina substantial number of works, resulting in a wide variety of perspectives, which couldpotentially be beneficial for their mutual understanding; can theories and conceptsemployed within the study of gender offer any new perspectives on madness? The initiationof this inquiry is to be situated with Michel Foucault, however, not because he wrote on boththe topics of madness and sexuality–the temporal gap between History of Madness and Historyof Sexuality has resulted in a distance on a theoretical as well as a historical level, that I willnot be addressing due to concerns of space and applicability–but rather for the similaritiesthat exist between his approach and feminist and gender studies on the level of methodologyand social consciousness. Secondly, I will be returning to the text that lighted the spark ofthe feminist fire, Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, highlighting the weakness that thistexts portrays concerning its applicability to both gender as well as well as and excavatingthe philosophical structure beneath it: Cartesian Dualism. Primary figure in this section–aside from the aforementioned Foucault–will be philosopher and theorist of gender JudithButler, whose Gender Trouble will initially function as an instance of similarity with Foucaultand an entry into Beauvoir’s weakness, but shall later serve as a significant influenceconcerning the importance of performativity within madness.Gender Trouble is considered one of the most influential critical texts of the last fewdecades. It instigated an important theoretical shift within feminism, posited an influentialtheory of performativity, and served as one of the founding texts of what came to be knownas Queer Theory. Even though this distinguished work arose from Butler’s exhaustive
12reading of theorists and philosophers such as Derrida, Kristeva, Lacan, and Wittig, sheemphasises in the 1999 Preface that Gender Trouble was “produced not merely from theacademy but from the convergent social movements of which [she] had been part, andwithin the context of a lesbian and gay community in which [she] had lived for fourteenyears prior to the writing of this book” (XVI): carefully grounded in theory, but motivated bysocial needs that she herself personally experienced as a member of a marginalised socialgroup. Such underlying emancipatory ideals and social awareness are also highlycharacteristic of Foucault’s writing. Whether they deal with hospitals, prisons, sexuality, orgender Butler and Foucault supersede mere analysis–both historical and structural–as theirwork is charged with a socially conscious force that provides a voice to those that exist alongor outside the margins of society. Prisoners, madmen, and non-binary genders are voicedthrough their historical and theoretical writings. Foucault’s work as a psychologist at theSaint-Anne Hospital in Paris during the early 1950s, resulted in a dissatisfaction with theprimarily organic nature of the pathological treatment of mental illness, a frustration heexpressed in his writing (Riza 23). In his 1962 text Maladie mentale et pyschologie–a revised,expanded, and renamed version of a text published in 1952 as Maladie mentale et personnalité,translated as both Mental Illness and Psychology and Madness: The Invention of an Idea– Foucaultaims to “show that mental pathology requires methods of analysis different from those oforganic pathology”(Madness: The Invention of an Idea 16): both mental and organic pathologyare dominated by an abstracted “metapathology” (2) resulting in t
The psychoanalyst Darian Leader denounces the DSM’s predominance within psychiatry in his book What is Madness?. According to Leader the DSM defines disorder “in terms of behaviour, so that visible, external aspects of our lives are used to define clinical categories” with a clear emphasis on “surface and visibility” (31). As such the external representations become the categories .