AbstractsPolitical Science

Madness Apparatus: Gender Politics, Art and the Asylum in Fin-de-Siècle Italy

by Nicoletta Pazzaglia

Institution: University of Oregon
Year: 2015
Keywords: Photography; Psychiatric Institution
Record ID: 2059104
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/18729


My dissertation focuses on literary and photographic representations of female madness as a means of exposing the material violence that notions of normality and of national identity produced in Italian society during the fin-de-siècle. Although many studies explore the exclusion of minorities in the project of nation-making, the mentally ill have rarely been discussed. Those studies that focus on literary representations of madness usually treat it as a metaphor or literary expedient and leave unexplored the material violence that psychiatric institutions inflicted on the mentally ill body. I aim to connect cultural realities and their representations, exploring the ways in which psychiatric and state power constructed and used the mentally ill body in the quest to create national identity. This quest was rooted in the widespread image of Italians as effeminate southerners from a backward, pre-modern part of Europe, an image that led to a crisis of masculinity. In my study I consider the crisis of masculinity vis-à-vis practices of asexualization of the body conducted inside the asylum. Through a parallel analysis of psychiatric photography and literary representations of female madness in Giovanni Verga, Luigi Capuana, Gabriele D'Annunzio, and Futurist avant-garde writers, my study shows how these practices actively contributed to social constructions of madness. Chapter I is an introduction to the development of modern psychiatry vis-à-vis the project of national identity formation in post-unification Italy. Chapter II analyzes first literary representations of female madness and psychiatric portraits of female patients to argue that the asexualization of patients' bodies was used to offer an ontological weight to national manhood. Chapter III explores the phenomenon of hysteria to show how the body of the hysterical woman functioned as apparatus used to produce normalization. Chapter IV examines how the futurist avant-garde overturned the madness apparatus at the beginning of the twentieth century. The conclusion I draw is that the mentally ill body functioned as an abjected or excluded other whose alterity was key to the construction of Italian identity.