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Title: Politics of madness : crisis as psychosis in the United States, 1950-2010
Author: Dunst, Alexander
ISNI:       0000 0004 2699 7742
Awarding Body: University of Nottingham
Current Institution: University of Nottingham
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis aims to understand the frequent use of metaphors of madness, in particular paranoia and schizophrenia, in American culture and thought from the Cold War to the ‘war on terror’ across a variety of discourses, from historiography to critical theory, from literature to film. Unlike existing analyses that focus on paranoia to the exclusion of schizophrenia, this study for the first time considers the historical evolution of a popular psychopathology as part of a wider struggle over the understanding of political agency and subjectivity. Part one establishes dominant conceptions of paranoia and schizophrenia in reading two representative thinkers of post-war America. The first chapter examines the historiography of Richard Hofstadter and his diagnosis of a paranoid style as a deliberate pathologisation of dissent and the failure of liberal hegemony. Next, I consider Fredric Jameson’s theory of postmodernism as the culmination of a widespread tropology of madness in cultural criticism and contend that Jameson’s thought revolves around the perceived absence of a revolutionary class, and the paradoxical attempt to think radical politics after the loss of such collective agency. Part two analyses the development of popular metaphors of madness from the counterculture to the present day. First, I focus on science-fiction author Philip K. Dick as arguably the most important writer of psychosis of the 1960s and 1970s. A lifelong dialogue with psychiatry, Dick’s work allows unparalleled insight into cultural uses of psychopathology. Chapter four intervenes in debates around conspiracy theories by re-reading America’s culture of paranoia, from 1970s conspiracy films to Don DeLillo’s Libra and Underworld. My critique of conspiracy studies’ continued pathologisation of dissent leads to a rethinking of paranoia based on Lacan’s late writings on psychosis: not as paranoia outside reason, but the paranoia of reason. The final chapter turns to the recent work of Jameson and DeLillo to assess the afterlife of popular psychopathology after its integration into US culture and assesses the use of metaphors of madness in thinking the attacks of 9/11 and its consequences. While Jameson’s concern with schizophrenic postmodernism has been dialectically transformed into a consideration of collective subjectivity, I read DeLillo’s novels Cosmopolis, Falling Man, and Point Omega as testament to a final exhaustion of political alterity in his work and a consequent renewal of psychopathological characterisations of contemporary America.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Not available Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: E151 United States (General)