Aesthetics and Agency: A Novel Look at Madness at NeMLA 2015

full name / name of organization: 
Aubrey Mishou/ NeMLA
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46th Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association
April 30 - May 3, 2015
Toronto, Ontario

'Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power,' (204) says Dale Harding in Ken Kesey's 1962 novel _One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest_. Arguably the sanest character in the narrative, Harding is allowed a unique perspective to comment on the effectiveness of _appearing mad_; hospitalized only for his homosexuality, he nonetheless wields his identification as a mental patient to find a new kind of agency. This question of power stands as singularly intriguing, as the disenfranchised patients come to identify the social significance of their othering: here, it is the appearance of 'mental illness' that allows Harding 'power' – a power which he is denied in his conventional life, and which he internalizes only after being graced with the label of 'mentally ill.'

As further demonstrated in texts such as Charlotte Bronte's _Jane Eyre_, the identification of madness is fraught with anxiety; it can be an invisible disease, manifesting itself in secret, and calling into question social security. In an attempt to alleviate this anxiety, authors sketch the face of madness, at once commenting on its attraction while defining its characteristics as monstrous: Bertha Mason, though attractive in her moments of lucidity, is defined as demonic and barbaric by her matrimonial competitor. But is Mason truly repugnant, or is it her unnatural autonomy to which Jane, and Victorian readers, respond? Is madness repulsive in form and deviation, or is the adoption of a mad identity a way through which marginalized individuals can gain Harding's sense of power?

'Aesthetics and Agency: A Novel Look at Madness' seeks papers in English on the aesthetics and representations of madness, and the agency that may be found in an otherwise oppressive and vilified identity, focusing on texts from the first wave of mental health reform in the nineteenth-century through the second wave of reform in the mid-twentieth century.

Deadline for abstracts: September 30

According to the new guidelines set by NeMLA, no abstracts will be accepted through email. Instead, interested scholars should submit abstracts through the NeMLA website.

Please submit 300-500 word abstracts and a brief bio through the NeMLA website here:

For questions about the new system, you can contact NeMLA web support here: