Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Kir Kuiken

Second Advisor

Paul Stasi

Abstract

Art and medicine have historically exchanged axioms for understanding mental illness, negotiating a lexicon with which afflicted artists can articulate their experience. This exchange, however, has been problematic. The mentally ill have had to conform to explanatory paradigms that are often inadequate, and cultural mores stemming from the scientific misunderstanding of “madness” have often stigmatized mental illness. These include misconceptions about the source of creative genius as residing in either the divine or the unconscious, the cultural fashioning of the “mad poet” identity, and the idealization of certain types of mental illness as “artistically valuable.” This study will show, however, that the European Romantic movement in the early 19th century contained psychologically afflicted poets who were able to use tropes of “madness” in inventive ways to articulate a more insightful account of the interplay between mental illness and the creative process than could be found in existing paradigms of mental illness. Furthermore, I contend that these poets were able to respond to their period’s flawed paradigms by sardonically using these tropes to subvert convention and, in doing so, help shift the paradigm. The poetry of John Keats and Samuel Taylor Coleridge is examined alongside that of Charles Baudelaire to elucidate the important role that these poets had in advancing discourse on mental illness and creativity into our contemporary period.

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