Madness as a Construct / Raj Ayyar
So often, esp. in South Asia and elsewhere, madness is seen as a stigma, a permanent condition of an unfortunate few that are not ‘normal’.
‘Madness’ as a construct, rather than a hushed-up essential condition of some humans: Michel Foucault, Thomas Szasz, R.D. Laing and the sociologist Erving Goffman have taught us that ‘madness’ is a function of power relations and discourses (Foucault), that it is a ‘deviant’ dramaturgic performativity (Goffman), that madness is ‘manufactured’ (Szasz), that the ‘mad’ ones are the really sane escapists in a schizoid, fragmented world (RD Laing).
The Cheshire Cat in Alice prefigures all these critiques of ‘madness’ vs. ‘normalcy’.
‘In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, `lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, `lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’
`But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’
Alice didn’t think that proved it at all; however, she went on `And how do you know that you’re mad?’
`To begin with,’ said the Cat, `a dog’s not mad. You grant that?’
`I suppose so,’ said Alice.
`Well, then,’ the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’
`I call it purring, not growling,’ said Alice.
`Call it what you like,’ said the Cat.
–Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland