#414: Read insane writing

14 Mar

This is kind of fascinating: a book from 1870 analyzing writing from people in an asylum.

If you’re too lazy to read it yourself, let me summarize: this doctor proposed that there was some value in studying the writing of the clinically insane, which seems to be a notion before his time (though, having not lived in the 19th century, I can’t say for sure).  And he had come up with several–really seven–different things he thought studying their writing could tell us about these people.

Pretty intriguing, but while reading the book, I was less focused on these particular cases and more interested in what the author’s conclusions might mean today.  If, for example, you classified someone as insane purely because of his writing–which was one of the possibilities brought up, though admittedly a rare one–wouldn’t that implicate a whole lot of people?  Not that creative people of every type aren’t crazy to some extent; I’m certainly not suggesting that.  I’m saying we call them artists, while back in 1870 they may have simply been called asylum patients.

Anyway, you should check out the book if you’re at all curious about what “insane” writing looks like.  If not, I’ll just leave you with my two favorite quotes:

“There is a large class of persons, particularly among women, of limited mental capacity, and of unstable nervous power, whose ailments are very closely related to the condition called insanity.”

I’m pretty sure he’s just calling all women crazy, but hoping that due to their “limited mental capacity” they won’t find out.

“The peculiarity was, that he could work well, and not attract public attention, while he was in his leisure moments writing the most incoherent nonsense.”

Doesn’t that describe most writers?

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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Books


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