'La Muse Malade', The Fool's Perceptions' & 'Il Furore dell'Arte': An examination of the socio-cultural construction of genius through madness

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Colleges, School and Institutes


The cultural interplay of madness and genius is entrenched in, although not exclusive to, Western intellectual tradition. In order to trace both their reflection of and influence on each other, this paper seeks to rupture the alliance of these terms with their clinical 'pseudonyms' of mental illness and creativity. Drawing on preceding psychiatric research, as well as both literary criticism and anthropological theory, this paper traces the patchwork of metaphors and cultural imaginings that make up the genius/madness myth-the socio-cultural construction of genius through madness. With particular focus on the cyclical processes of cultural mythmaking it tracks the elements of this construction, initially diachronically, and then through psychiatry and its effect on social thought. Finally, an assessment of the social implications of this myth illustrates that not only is genius socio-culturally constructed through madness but that madness itself is also fabricated through genius in the binding circularity of societal mythmaking. The paper argues that this socio-cultural construction legitimates and elevates, shackles and constrains, having societal implications far beyond the reaches of its own confines.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-163
Number of pages13
JournalAnthropology and Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2005