6.11.13

An Essay on Poetry (Literally)


Most of mankind will concur
in that there are few fates as undesirable as madness.
Along the course of human history and literature,
insanity has mostly been understood
as a plunge into an abyss of irrecoverable depth,
and in some cases as a fortune worse than death.

The theme abounds in the classics,
from the Greeks to Dostoevsky,
and continues to intrigue our literary imaginations to this day.
However, and even as new times and circumstances
have brought about different approaches to madness,
the ultimate ways in which mental disorder is
perceived, represented, and dealt with
have changed only in the surface.
Beneath a façade of empathetic clinical and social progress,
mental unbalance continues to be a reason for alienation
and prejudice.

So it is, namely,
in the work of two prominent twentieth-century writers,
Janet Frame and Toni Morrison.
To be precise,
we talk about the posthumously published 1954 short story Gorse is not People,
and the acclaimed 1970 debut novel The Bluest Eye,
respectively.

Both these texts present young female protagonists
who fall into the pits of madness
(as it is perceived by others, at least)
—a madness whose ontology,
social consequences,
and textual representation
we shall outline and discuss in brevity.

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