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The Medical Mind in Literature and Culture (IL901)

According to the physician, anthropologist and Harvard Professor of Psychiatry Arthur Kleinman, illness – the human experience of symptoms and suffering – has different sorts of meaning, some of which are formed socially and culturally (Kleinman, The Illness Narratives, 1988).

The aim of the module is to explore and critique past and current models of the mind from a range of disciplinary perspectives including the sciences, history, literature, philosophy, and film. We will consider issues relating to mental illness, neurological disorder and trauma memory in the light of these models.

The ambition for this module is to encourage and enable students from across the University (including Warwick Medical School) to develop their skills at identifying and understanding some of the different sorts of meaning associated with the mind and mental disorder.

The module will be delivered over 10 two-hour seminar/workshops. Teaching will include a mixture of lectures and seminars, making use of a variety of media (e.g. videos, text and pictures) and activities (e.g. group discussions, guest lectures and student presentations). Texts and material will come from a variety of sources (including literature, life sciences/medicine, history, and philosophy). The module convenor is Dr. Viv Joseph who has active research interests in the medical humanities.

A group of students with their lecturer watching a video.

Illustrative Syllabus

The module will consist of three parts:

(1) The mind, history and the external world;

(2) The mind and the self;

(3) Performance and psychiatry

Part 1 will begin with

(i) historical conceptions of the mind and mental disorder from different disciplinary perspectives;

(ii) explore contemporary and subsequent responses to shell shock in both medicine and literature, and

(iii) consider hallucinations and delusions from the perspectives of literature and medicine

Part 2 will

(ii) use selected texts/ excerpts, film representations to consider the concept and lived experience of schizophrenia

(iii) look at memory, amnesia and the self through memoir and film

Part 3, will explore theatre, neurology and psychopathology:

(i) it will begin by using Samuel Beckett’s 1972 play Not I and ideas about performance, language and the self in the exploration of language pathologies, neurodiversity, and existential psychiatry

(ii) it will then use Sarah Kane’s 1999 play 4.48 Psychosis to think through the aesthetic and ethical challenges of representing subjective experiences of psychosis and psychiatric treatment, and explore traditions of anti-psychiatry in (and outside) the theatre.

Some indicative primary texts:

Samuel Beckett (1972), Not I [play; tv film]

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) The Yellow Wallpaper [novella]

Sarah Kane (1999) 4.48 Psychosis [play]

Lodge Kerrigan (1993) Clean, Shaven [film]

Christopher Nolan (2000) Memento [film]

Marguerite Sechehaye (1951) Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl [clinical memoir]

Esmé Weijun Wang (2019) The Collected Schizophrenias (2019) [essays]

Some indicative secondary texts:

Rita Charon (2006) Narrative Medicine

Stephen Harper (2009) 'The Suffering Screen: Cinematic Portrayals of Mental Distress', Madness, Power and the Media: 59-102

Femi Oyebode (2009) Mindreadings

Oliver Sacks (1985) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Louis Sass (1994) Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature and Thought

Andrew Scull (2015) Madness in Civilisation: A Cultural History of Insanity

Anne Whitehead (2017) Medicine and Empathy in Contemporary British Fiction

Angela Woods (2011) The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory

Module convenor

Dr Elizabeth Barry


Term 2 (Spring) 2023-24
Tuesday 10:00 to 12:00


FAB 3.33


For 20 CATS:
75% - essay/ report/ review article (3000 words)
25% - student presentation (15 minutes)

For 30 CATS:
65% - essay/ report/ review article (4000 words)
10% - Annotated bibliography (approximately 2000 words)
25% - student presentation (15 minutes)

The module is also available to MBChB students from Warwick Medical School as an SSC1 (for Autumn 2021)