Mental illness can often be the driving force behind creativity. This relationship is never more apparent than in the memoirs of writers who have lived, worked and created with a mental illness. Mad Muse examines and unpicks this fascinating relationship, demonstrating that mental illness is often intergenerational while the story of mental illness is intertextual.
The study begins with William Styron's iconic memoir Darkness Visible, moving through a succession of mental illness memoirs from some of the most important authors in the genre, including Kate Millett, Kay Redfield Jamison, Linda Sexton, Lauren Slater, Andrew Solomon and Elyn Saks.
From memoirs that blur the boundaries between historical truth and narrative truth to a first-person account of schizophrenia, Berman discusses the challenges of reading books which inspire hope and courage in many readers but may also sometimes have unintended consequences. In so doing, it illuminates the complex, co-existing relationship between the arts and mental health and represents an invaluable contribution to the study of health humanities.
With the rise of the memoir genre, authors have become ever more candid about the complexity of their inner lives, including states of extreme excitement, depression, and disorganization. Berman explores this special type of memoir with insight, generosity, and eloquence. He places each in the context of the author’s previous writings, as a means of illuminating the interactions among them, as well as the author’s consistent themes and concerns. The result is an amazing journey for the reader, who will dive into the depths of each writer’s life and imagination in a way that makes their experiences accessible, while inspiring admiration for their courage and accomplishments. Mad Muse expands our understanding of the range of human suffering, endurance, achievement, and triumph.
— Madelon Sprengnether, Regents Professor Emerita, University of Minnesota, USA
How does a writer write about his or her own mental illness? What is the role of a mental illness memoir in a writer's life story? What part does the mental illness memoir play in our institutional narratives of mental illness? Jeffrey Berman has long been known for his lucid expositions onthe relationships between psychoanalysis, literature, mental illness, and the creative imagination. Here Berman takes readers on a deeper journey. His tour of mental illness memoirs addresses some of the most important voices in American literature. To the question "is this new territory?"Absolutely. And has he done it again? Yes, but better.
— Dawn Skorczewski, Professor of English, Brandeis University, USA
Jeffrey Berman’s Mad Muse: The Mental Illness Memoir in a Writer’s Life and Work is a tour-de-force. Examining autobiographies of writers who examine their own states of ‘madness’ from William Styron and Andrew Solomon to Kate Millett and Linda Gray Sexton, Berman teases out how best-selling accounts of mental illness both reveal and mask a writer’s struggle with their sense of displacement and dis-ease. Brilliantly written, the book should be on the desk of any reader who believes that such autobiographies are ‘self-help’ manuals in dealing with their own discomforts and displacements. A truly original work of both literary criticism and psychoanalytic insight.
— Sander L Gilman, Emory University, USA
Jeffrey Berman’s “Mad Muse” is a very insightful, and beautifully written, account of memoirs of madness. Focusing in on seven writers of memoirs of mental illness, he draws out the many dimensions of such writing, including helping to heal oneself and helping others to understand the experience of madness. His discussion of my own story is extremely well done. He manages to capture my experience and convey my effort to give a window into the mind of someone suffering with schizophrenia. He also highlights the experiences that helped me evade my “grave prognosis.” Finally, he does a wonderful job, as with the other memoirists, of connecting my academic work, in my case on mental health law, with my own story. Berman’s book is both insightful and—importantly-- bound to have a positive effect on stigma. A really powerful work that should be widely read by consumers themselves, family members, mental health clinicians, mental health lawyers and advocates, and the general public.
— Professor Elyn R. Saks, USC Gould School of Law, USA and best-selling author of ‘The Center Cannot Hold'
Mad Muse is a remarkably insightful account of mental illness memoirs. Berman makes an original contribution to our understanding of the lives of writers who have struggled with mental illness and the work that has come in no small part from their suffering
— Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind and Pulitzer Prize finalist for Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire
About the Author:
Jeffrey Berman is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the University at Albany, USA. He has written on a wide range of subjects, including literature and psychoanalysis, the pedagogy of self-disclosure, love and loss, and death education.