State of Madness: Psychiatry, Literature, and Dissent After Stalin

State of Madness: Psychiatry, Literature, and Dissent After Stalin

by Rebecca Reich

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What madness meant was a fiercely contested question in Soviet society. State of Madness examines the politically fraught collision between psychiatric and literary discourses in the years after Joseph Stalin’s death. State psychiatrists deployed set narratives of mental illness to pathologize dissenting politics and art. Dissidents such as Aleksandr Vol’pin, Vladimir Bukovskii, and Semen Gluzman responded by highlighting a pernicious overlap between those narratives and their life stories. The state, they suggested in their own psychiatrically themed texts, had crafted an idealized view of reality that itself resembled a pathological work of art. In their unsanctioned poetry and prose, the writers Joseph Brodsky, Andrei Siniavskii, and Venedikt Erofeev similarly engaged with psychiatric discourse to probe where creativity ended and insanity began. Together, these dissenters cast themselves as psychiatrists to a sick society.

By challenging psychiatry’s right to declare them or what they wrote insane, dissenters exposed as a self-serving fiction the state’s renewed claims to rationality and modernity in the post-Stalin years. They were, as they observed, like the child who breaks the spell of collective delusion in Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In a society where normality means insisting that the naked monarch is clothed, it is the truth-teller who is pathologized. Situating literature’s encounter with psychiatry at the center of a wider struggle over authority and power, this bold interdisciplinary study will appeal to literary specialists; historians of culture, science, and medicine; and scholars and students of the Soviet Union and its legacy for Russia today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609092337
Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press
Publication date: 03/13/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 280
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Rebecca Reich is a lecturer in Russian literature and culture at the University of Cambridge.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Author's Note xi

Introduction 3

Chapter 1 Soviet Psychiatry and the Art of Diagnosis 23

Chapter 2 Thinking Differently: The Case of the Dissidents 60

Chapter 3 Dialogue of Selves: The Case of Joseph Brodsky 101

Chapter 4 Creative Madness: The Case of Andrei Siniavskii 148

Chapter 5 Madness as Mask: The Case of Venedikt Erofeev 185

Conclusion 217

Abbreviations 225

Notes 227

Bibliography 261

Index 277

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