Long Sunday, long post

Craig at Long Sunday turns in a considered post not only on History of Madness, but also appraising an oeuvre, and whether it is right that HoM is “juvenilia” and is also influential.

Let us, for the time being, bracket the question of his works after 1963 and turn to his early works; that is, the group of works which have come to be dominated by The History of Madness, that are at the center of the current controversy. The question, it seems, is whether or not these works can be characterized as “juvenalia” or otherwise questioned in relation to his other works. The answer from the other side – that some of these works are presently taught in seminars – does not provide a convincing reply: the mere presence on a syllabus does not indicate that the instructor considers the work authoritative. It is entirely possible to imagine someone – saying Scull himself – teaching a course on the historiography of psychiatry in which students would study landmark works in the writing of the history of psychiatry. Per Scull’s own review, The History of Madness would of necessity be included in such a syllabus as it was the work that opened up these sorts of questions to later scholars. Thus, it is entirely reasonable to include the book on a syllabus as important, but to teach it as flawed – it asked in important questions, but it failed to answer them. Hence, the mere fact that book is taught is not indicative of its authority in a positive sense: it could be taught because it is wrong; wrong in interesting ways. A form of wrong-ness, I’d suggest, that is more interesting than books that are technically “right.”

One Response

  1. Thanks – insofar as “considered” can be generously extended to “wrote in a bad mood between taking the dog out for a poo and Wheel of Fortune”! Any comments on what was (most likely) a poorly conceived post? I think the essential point I was making is defensible, not sure I presented it well.

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