Societies Reaction To Madness Over Time Term Paper

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History, has been, and will continue to be, an important part of society. Frederick Jackson Turner once said, “Each age tries to form its own conception of the past. Each age writes the history of the past anew with references to the conditions uppermost in its own times.” (New) Today our culture views some events as significant and others that have impacted society just as much, oftentimes do not receive as much credit. “The Discourse on Language”, by Michel Foucault, encompasses reasons our society tends to exclude certain issues. Among these oppositions are the principles of reason and madness. During the middle ages the mad man’s words were either “considered null and void” or were taken as words implying “hidden truth or meaning revealing things that the wise could not retrieve”. (Foucault 217) As Society has progressed our ability to accept advise from the mad has increased yet, the release of information is frequently controlled. Foucault states, “ We have only to bear all this in mind to suspect that the old division is just as active as ever”. (Foucault 217) Thus society still fosters a mild prejudice towards the insane but are conversely developing ways to accept the convoluted truths stated through madmen.

The life and work of Sigmund Freud is a perfect example of this principle. Due to his peculiar ways many people were indifferent to his theories during his lifetime. Freud stated ideas and opinions, which many other scholars were too timid to bring to the publics attention, one example being his constant psychoanalytic obsession with sex. “Freud’s theories were interpreted as direct incitements to surrendering all restraint, to reverting to a state of primitive license and savagery,” yet, he continued to introduce beneficial writing and ideas into the scientific community. (Jones 299) His psychoanalytic theory, which explains personality and mental disorders through the unconscious determination of behavior, shed a new light on psychologist’s view of observation. However, with the use of his daughter as a subject, and his addiction to cocaine, the scientific community, at that time, often rejected his theories. At a German Neurologists and Psychiatrists meeting one scientist, speaking of Freud’s theories stated, “This is not a topic for discussion at a scientific meeting; it is a matter for the police.” (Jones 299) Even though Freud’s peers reputed him, his work was extremely prophetic. Freud successfully created a new approach to thought after dealing with constant criticism from others. It only took society a few years to understand the importance of a man whom society learned to reject at first. Although Freud was repudiated by much of the scientific community because he was considered scandalous, his work will live forever.

Edgar Allen Poe contributed immense amounts of genius work to the literary field but was often times considered unimportant because of his bad reputation. His father, publishers, and universities because of his disheveled, dishonest, and idiosyncratic tendencies oftentimes rejected Poe. Due to Poe’s obsession with the grotesque, society during his time tended to push him to the side. “With the aid of his psychological stories, critics have proclaimed him necrophilic, dipsomanic, paranoid, impotent, neurotic, oversexed, a habitual taker of drugs, until all that is left in the public eye is an unstable creature sitting gloomily in a dim room, the raven over the door, the bottle on the table, the opium in the pipe, scribbling mad verses” (Bittner 9). However, in all of Poe’s work he uses ingenious genre and techniques that we honor as genius today. In The Fall of the House of Usher, Poe uses the scenery to correspond to the events that are going on in the house. Poe’s style of writing was very in depth. He chose themes such as reincarnation, perversity, and retribution, which in the end made him unpopular among literary critics. Yet, it is not what you say but how you say it. Despite the fact that Poe was considered mad, his work has been and will continue to be admired and studied by many people.

Dealing with the repercussions of indifference has proved to be one of the most trifling actions society, has ever taken on. People like Edgar Allen Poe and Sigmund Freud have proven society wrong in showing that they can think intellectually with out being “normal”. Had people like these not come along, would society’s mindset be the same as it is today? It is these types of people that will eventually calm the impressions society makes on madness. In order to change, society must be willing to accept and overlook these differences so that we may gain a new outlook toward life. In history we can track the steps society has taken towards change and use them to form a new approach. Only we can be responsible for society and the advancements it makes in the future.


Works Cited

Bittner, William. Poe: A Biography. London: Eleck Books, 1962.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith.

New York: Pantheon Books: 1972.

Jones, Ernest. The Life and Works of Sigmund Freud. Abr. ed. Lionel Trilling. Steven

Marcus. New York: Basic Books, Inc: 1961.

New Perspectives on the West. 1996. Public Broadcasting System. 9 October 2000.


Word Count: 805

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