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Review of "Mad Pride"

By Ted Curtis, Robert Dellar, Esther Leslie, & Ben Watson (Editors)
Spare Change Press/Chipmunkapublishing, 2000
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 10th 2004
Mad Pride

The most interesting aspect of Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture is its title.  It draws connections between the liberation of oppressed people and movements such as black pride, the uncovering and celebration of women's history, and gay and lesbian cultures.  With all these liberation movements, distinctive styles and stereotypes that had previously been devalued and scorned were self-consciously celebrated and held to be valuable.  The women's movement took words like "bitch," "hag," "witch," and "shrew" and analyzed the sexist ideologies behind those words.  It also reclaimed some of those words, with women proudly proclaiming themselves to be those things.  Similarly, gay culture has taken words such as "queer" and "fag" and used them for themselves so that they have largely lost their negative connotations.  Some parts of African American culture have also reclaimed derogatory names used for black people, although to what extent this has succeeded in stripping them of their pejorative meanings is at least open to debate. 

So it is notable when a book does not simply provide an excuse for the strange behavior and bizarre ideas of people with mental illness, but actually attempts to show that these have value.  It locates people with mental illnesses as an oppressed minority with much to contribute, and you would expect it to argue that much of the reason that the activities of the mentally ill have been undervalued is that society is narrow-minded and intolerant.  Indeed, this has already happened in the art world with the acceptance of art brut and the widespread critical approval of a great deal of art by people with mental illness.  One would expect a book with a title like "Mad Pride" to examine words like "mad," "crazy," "lunatic," "psycho," "nutter," and phrases such as "not right in the head" and show how these serve to oppress people diagnosed with mental illness.  One would expect the book to make the argument that people with mental illness are often highly creative and add to the richness of human experience.  One might also expect it to look at parts of culture that are already highly valued and say that they can be seen as part of the culture of madness.

Mad Pride does contain contributions with those aims.  Most of the pieces are highly personal, and most are autobiographical.  A few seem to be some blend of fiction and fantasy.  There are 24 chapters, mostly by men, and all based in the UK or Ireland.  Some pieces, such as Esther Leslie's "Mad Pride and Prejudice," are more theoretical, going into history and philosophy.  Many are written from a socialist or anarchist perspective.  Many of them assume familiarity with British political life, using abbreviations and referring to places, institutions, and politicians unknown to non-Britains.  Some pieces express particular anger towards Tony Blair's government.  But the book is a very mixed bag, and to be honest, it is quite a struggle to get through all 208 pages of text.  The writing is so idiosyncratic and local that it is hard to gain much from it.  Compared to the feminist collections of personal narratives of the 1960s and 1970s that were driven by the conviction that the personal is political, Mad Pride seems much more random and lacking in cohesion.  It is an interesting book to dip into, but it will need to be supplemented by much more writing and political action if we are going to achieve any widespread re-evaluation of mad culture. 





© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.