On Psychiatric Metaphor:
Exploring the Use of Clinical Concepts in Cultural Theory

Dr Angela Woods, Centre for Medical Humanities

Wednesday 26 October, 5 pm

St Chad’s Chapel and SCR
Followed by wine and canapés

Anti-Oedipus (1979): French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and Italian psychoanalyst Félix Guattari argue that schizophrenia is a process of psychic and social deterritorialization unleashed by capitalism. Madness and Modernism (1992): in his magnum opus, clinical psychologist Louis Sass plots the relationship between the phenomenology of schizophrenia and structures of modern art, literature and thought. Hystories (1998): American literary critic Elaine Showalter uses the psychoanalytic concept of hysteria to understand a range of anxieties specific to late twentieth-century Western culture. The Weariness of the Self (2010): French sociologist Alain Ehrenberg argues that depression has become the privileged disorder of the modern, autonomous, self-determining individual.

How and why are clinical concepts used to interpret the structures of society and subjectivity? What are the effects of these kinds of analytic projects, and what relevance, if any, do they have for clinical practice?

Extending the arguments of my book The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory (2011), this paper offers a critical introduction to cultural theory’s deployment of clinical concepts from the ‘psy’ disciplines. Arguing against what is perhaps a majority view – that using psychiatric terminology ‘metaphorically’ is illegitimate, imprecise, irresponsible, and insensitive to the human costs of illness – I aim to show why it is important for an interdisciplinary field such as the medical humanities to view diagnostic categories from multiple perspectives.


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