Abstract

This essay argues that Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952)provides promising ground and a certain imperative to investigatethe underexamined intersections between literature and the historyof psychiatry. Especially where African American literatureis concerned, there has been a general reluctance to approachthese categories together, even while anecdotally history recordsnumerous engagements between the two. Ellison, for example,worked closely with Richard Wright and Dr. Fredric Wertham toestablish Harlem's LaFargue Clinic, the first and, in its time,only such institution committed to providing modern psychiatricservices to any and all who needed them. Ellison found in theclinic's practices a model of social psychiatry that did muchto address the shortcomings he observed in Freud's psychoanalyticparadigm, but not enough to fully shake his deep suspicionsof the medical establishment's interests in black minds andbodies. Focusing on Invisible Man and an early excised chaptertitled "Out of the Hospital and under the Bar," this essay proposesthat Ellison rewrites the terms of psychiatric discourse, embracinga dialectical understanding of neurosis that figures it as bothdisabling and enabling and deploys it as a claim to modernityand a rejection of and retreat from the modern world. The essayargues that the novel is prescient in its postmodern playfulness,offering a representation of mental illness detached from itsspecifically psychiatric or broadly medical moorings that anticipatesby more than a decade the radical revisions of thinkers likeFoucault and Szasz.

Disciplines

English Language and Literature

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URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/engl_fac/66