Insane Passions: Lesbianism and Psychosis in Literature and Film

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Overview

In France in 1933, two sisters, presumed to be lovers, murdered the women who employed them as maids. Known as “the Papin affair,” the incident inspired not only Jean Genet's 1947 The Maids but also an essay by Jacques Lacan that presents the sisters' crime as fueled by a narcissistic, homosexual drive that culminated in the assault. In this new investigation of the roots of the twentieth-century myth of the lesbian-as-madwoman, Christine Coffman argues that the female psychotic was the privileged object of Lacan’s effort to derive a revolutionary theory of subjectivity from the study of mental illness. Examining Lacan's early writings, French surrealism, Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, and H.D.’s homoerotic fiction in light of feminist and queer theory, Insane Passions argues that the psychotic woman that fascinates modernist writers returns with a murderous vengeance in a number of late twentieth-century films—including Basic Instinct, Sister My Sister, Single White Female, and Murderous Maids. Marking the limit of social acceptability, the “psychotic lesbian” repeatedly appears as the screen onto which the violence and madness of twentieth-century life are projected.
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What People Are Saying

Christopher Lane
"In this astute and forceful book, Coffman teases out when women's paranoid aggression was a convenient fantasy that fueled various artistic and intellectual agendas, and when it marked a genuine crisis about the terms and enigmas of sexual identity itself."
Christopher Lane, Professor of English, Northwestern University
Christopher Lane
“In this astute and forceful book, Coffman teases out when women’s paranoid aggression was a convenient fantasy that fueled various artistic and intellectual agendas, and when it marked a genuine crisis about the terms and enigmas of sexual identity itself.”
Kendall R. Phillips
“Engages an important theoretical fault line running through psychoanalysis, feminism, queer theory, literary criticism, and popular culture. Coffman has grounded these theoretical debates in relevant texts that help to illuminate what's at stake.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819568199
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 12/12/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 308
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRISTINE E. COFFMAN is an assistant professor in the department of English at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Marking the Limits of the Social
Writing the Papin Affair
Surrealism’s Lesbian Doubles
“What insane passion”: Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood
“Prophetess Faced Prophetess”: Madness and H.D.’s Prose
The Late Twentieth Century: Filming the Psychotic Queer Woman
Notes
Works Cited
Index
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