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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 and the external world;

(2) The mind and the self, and

(3) English and Theatre (details to be confirmed).

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 begin with

(i) different ideas of the unconscious, linking that to portrayals in popular culture of brainwashing and mind control (including John Frankenheimer's 1962 The Manchurian Candidate);

(ii) explore the relationship between memory, the sense of self and narrative.

Part 3, with Dr Liz Barry (Warwick, English) will explore theatre, neurology and psychopathology:

  1. 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
  2. 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 texts:

Vivian Nutton (2013) Ancient Medicine

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

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

Rita Charon (2006) Narrative Medicine

Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison (2007) Objectivity

Peter Anstey (2011) John Locke and Natural Philosophy

John Carriero (2009) Between Two Worlds: A Reading of Descartes's Meditations

Andrew Scull (2015) Madness in Civilisation

Robert Louis Stevenson (1885) Markheim

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892) The Yellow Wallpaper

David Seed (2004) Brainwashing: The Fictions of Mind Control: A Study of Novels and Films Since World War II


Module convenor

Dr Viv Joseph 

(V dot Joseph dot 1 at warwick dot ac dot uk)


Term 1 (Autumn)- 2021-2
Friday 10.00 am - 12.00 pm


Virtual until Week 8, then rooms to be confirmed.


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)

For 36 CATS:
65% - essay/ report/ review article (5000 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)