Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!


An Active Mind's picture

Below are a list of questions I hope to explore throughout the semester that concern the relations among disability studies, mental illness, and literature:

  • How might the idea of  “treatment” or a “cure” be problematic? 
  • How might language shape disability?  What does it mean to call someone “crazy”, “psycho”, or “nuts”?  How might our own vernacular shape stigma?
  •  What does it mean to be “normal”?  How do “norms” come into being? 
  • What does it mean to have an “active mind?”  How can we bridge the biological and scientific research surrounding mental illness with literature? 
  • How does the autobiography/memoir function in relation to mental illness?  What are the pros and cons of narratives about disability? 
  • How do we bridge the differences between “physical” and “mental” disability?  What do we do with an illness that can’t necessarily be seen, but is nonetheless the object of stigmatization?  Is that which is most stigmatized that which remains unseen?  Do the mind and body move simultaneously?  Or do they work in disjunction?   
  • How does empathy function in relation to mental illness?  Can you only feel compassion for someone if you’ve experienced a similar suffering?  As Woolf mentions in “On Being Ill”, is it true that it’s merely an illusion to believe that others have been in the same place or experienced the same feelings?  She writes, “We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others.  Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way.  There is a virgin forest in each; a snowfield where even the print of birds’ feet is unknown.  Here we must go alone, and like it better so.  Always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable” (12).  Is it better to suffer alone or is best to find comfort in community? 
  •  What are the goals of mental health advocacy?  Are outreach organizations like Active Minds, NAMI, The Jed Foundation, BringChange2Mind, and the ADAA successful?  What are the best approaches to eliminating stigma?   
  • Queer studies has done a lot of work looking at what it means to be “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric” (OED)—or not “normal.”  How can we apply queer theory to mental illness?  Can we come to expand the definition of “queer” to include the mentally ill?