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Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture

Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 304
  • Book Info
    Madness and the Mad in Russian Culture
    Book Description:

    Editors Angela Brintlinger and Ilya Vinitsky have brought together essays that cover over 250 years and address a wide variety of ideas related to madness

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8453-9
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Translation and Transliteration
    (pp. xi-1)
  5. Introduction: Approaching Russian Madness
    (pp. 3-20)

    Even as the Soviet Union crumbled, themes of medical and forensic psychiatry as well as psychotherapy gained new prominence in Russian social and cultural discourse. One of the first examples was Alfred Schnittke’s operaLife with an Idiot, based on the story by Viktor Erofeev. The opera premiered in Amsterdam in April 1992, marrying Schnittke’s dissonent modernist musical vision with an attempt to juxtapose ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ psyches. Russians discovered the history of psychoanalysis in Russia in a book by their countryman Alexander Etkind (Eros of the Impossible, 1993) and learned of the West’s reappraisal of psychiatry and mental institutions...


    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 21-24)

      The sanity or insanity of an individual is not only a medical question, but also an ideological, judicial, social, and existential one. It is inextricably connected to the question of who diagnoses the insanity, as well as how, to what end, under what conditions, and with what ideological, social, economic, or philosophical preconceptions the insanity is diagnosed. In certain cases, it is also a question of how he who has been declared ‘ideologically’ insane answers the diagnosis given by the authorities or society. ‘Insane you have declared me in chorus,’ the smartest character in Aleksandr Griboedov’s famous comedyWoe from...

    • 1 A Cheerful Empress and Her Gloomy Critics: Catherine the Great and the Eighteenth-Century Melancholy Controversy
      (pp. 25-45)

      In this chapter I investigate the origins and cultural meaning of Catherine the Great’s passionate condemnation of melancholy. I consider this issue within the contexts of eighteenth-century medical theory, the Russian Enlightenment, and the empress’s own ‘scenario of power’ (see Wortman). Following Wolf Lepenies’s seminal study on melancholy in Western society, I place a special emphasis on the relationships ‘between the reality of rulership and the modeling of affects’ (1) in the Russian Age of Reason. In other words, I will discuss melancholy as an ideological and political construct; one which appropriated traditional psychiatric, physiological, and moral interpretations of the...

    • 2 The Osvidetel’stvovanie and Ispytanie of Insanity: Psychiatry in Tsarist Russia
      (pp. 46-58)

      During the second half of the nineteenth century, Russian society began to acknowledge the social status of psychiatrists, and with this a new term entered the Russian language – ‘psychiatric evaluation.’ Two other terms were subsumed under the actual definition of psychiatric evaluation –osvidetel’stvovanie(‘examination’) andispytanie(‘testing’). These discrete procedures are crucial to an understanding of the psychiatric and legal discourse of the time. This chapter will delve deeper into the history of psychiatric evaluation, a central element of the institution of psychiatry. Through a survey of the historical evolution of medical and administrative practices of recognition and identification of...

    • 3 Madness as an Act of Defence of Personality in Dostoevsky’s The Double
      (pp. 59-74)

      When one describes a person’s character in Russian, madness is generally denoted by the word ‘insanity’ (sumasshestvie). However, a great many synonyms exist to describe the afflicted person: broken, diminished, mentally ill, abnormal, crazy, psychopathic, half-there, damaged.¹ More colourful to the Russian ear are terms such as idiot, maniac, cretin,debile. The traditional Russian words ‘touched’ and ‘blessed’ have a sympathetic feel to them. And finally there are an enormous number of metaphorical synonyms: cracked, clinked, maddened, nuts, and so on, down to the highly contemporary ‘his roof’s gone.’²

      In the Russian language, the notion of insanity stretches from the...

    • 4 Vsevolod Garshin, the Russian Intelligentsia, and Fan Hysteria
      (pp. 75-89)

      In spring 1886, when the writer Vsevolod Mikhailovich Garshin appeared on a St Petersburg stage at a public reading, a scene of mass hysteria erupted. In one account, a memoirist recalls that Garshin was greeted with twenty minutes of unruly ovation: ‘many people stood up in the orchestra and box seats; they were banging their chairs against the floor, ladies were rapping their fans. The banging and shouting did not die down for twenty minutes’ (Bibikov 353). Only when the uproarious enthusiasm had finally settled down was Garshin able to pronounce just two words – the title of his most famous...

    • 5 On Hostile Ground: Madness and Madhouse in Joseph Brodsky’s ‘Gorbunov and Gorchakov’
      (pp. 90-100)

      As he grew older, the poet Joseph Brodsky became increasingly inclined to disavow his prolific youthful period, but ‘Gorbunov and Gorchakov’ remained an exception. Even in the late 1980s Brodsky called this long poem ‘an extremely serious work’ (Volkov 292). The years in which the poem was created were, arguably, the most dramatic in the author’s life: imprisonment, trial by a kangaroo court, exile, a close friend’s betrayal, break-up with a beloved woman, a suicide attempt, reunion with the beloved and an attempt to start a family, the birth of a son, and then the final break-up.¹ The amassed psychological...


    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 101-104)

      The present section includes articles examining Russian psychiatric consciousness during periods of crisis in Russia’s most recent history – terrorist acts in the 1870s and the beginning of the 1880s, the Russo-Japanese and First World Wars, the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and the Civil War of 1918–22.

      In his chapter, ‘The Concept of Revolutionary Insanity in Russian History,’ Martin Miller investigates the history of the concept in Russian literary and ideological contexts. In Miller’s view, the formation of the frightening image of the revolutionary-lunatic in Russian culture is a defensive reaction by a significant portion of Russian society to...

    • 6 The Concept of Revolutionary Insanity in Russian History
      (pp. 105-116)

      The association of the terms ‘revolutionary’ and ‘madness’ has become embedded in Western cultural mores over the past two centuries. In Imperial Russia, the perception of revolutionaries and revolutions as exemplars of the irrational has a history of its own – one that is both related to, and separate from, its Western conceptual counterparts. In this chapter, I shall attempt to trace the broad outlines of the history of the Russian concept of revolutionary madness, while keeping the larger comparative context in mind.

      The linking of events as revolutionary and behaviour as pathology can be examined from two perspectives. On the...

    • 7 The Politics of Etiology: Shell Shock in the Russian Army, 1914–1918
      (pp. 117-129)

      Recent work by Western historians has substantially expanded our knowledge of psychiatry in the First World War (Kaufman; Lerner, ‘Hysterical’; Roudebush; Shepard). Contrary to the previous view that the war did not alter psychiatric theories, these studies demonstrate that psychiatry came out of the war changed. First, psychiatry firmly established itself as a specialty within war medicine. Second, post-war discussions around what had initially been diagnosed as ‘shell shock’ facilitated the entrance into psychiatry of the category ‘psychoneurosis,’ the idea that mental illness can have a psychological origin, and of psychotherapy (Brunner; Lerner, ‘Rationalizing’).

      Compared with studies of war psychiatry...

    • 8 Lives Out of Balance: The ‘Possible World’ of Soviet Suicide during the 1920s
      (pp. 130-149)

      Suicide and madness are closely intertwined in history. At various times the act of taking one’s own life has symbolized either the loss of self-control or the expression of personal autonomy. This interpretative tension made the determination of the suicide’s state of mind critical to his treatment by the church, the state, and society at large. In tsarist Russia, as in other European countries, persons who were deemed insane or under the grip of mental anguish at the time of their suicide were treated with greater leniency by the law. Like criminals found ‘not responsible’ for their actions, insane or...

    • 9 Early Soviet Forensic Psychiatric Approaches to Sex Crime, 1917–1934
      (pp. 150-168)

      New scholarship on the ‘sexual revolution’ in Bolshevik Russia has turned increasingly to medical sources. Early Soviet ideology accorded considerable significance to the medical view of sexuality, whether healthy or pathological, and authorities conferred their blessings on the medical approach to the issue during the 1920s. Literary scholars and historians have noted how medicalized views of sexuality circulated in public debates about the ‘sexual question,’ how a divided Party struggled with this awkward and unanticipated subject, and how the medical profession responded to the Party’s invitation to take custody of the issue (Naiman; S. Frank; Carleton; Bernstein).

      The focus, and...


    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 169-172)

      The alleged connection between genius and insanity is fundamental to the history of European insanity. The theory of divine insanity – which, according to Plato, was characteristic of prophets, philosophers, poets, and lovers – became known in Russia during the eighteenth century. This traditional question about the boundaries separating pathological insanity from genius takes on a special significance in the nineteenth century: this is not only a popular literary theme, but also a serious metaphysical problem, constantly fuelled by real stories about insane geniuses – stories to which society reacts with horror and often a fascinated interest. It can be said that every...

    • 10 Writing about Madness: Russian Attitudes toward Psyche and Psychiatry, 1887–1907
      (pp. 173-191)

      During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the science and profession of psychiatry in Russia were on the rise, and Russian psychiatrists placed themselves squarely at the centre of the discourse about mental illness. In order to establish their authority, Russian doctors of mental illness pursued three strategies. First, they brought a new scientific language to describe madness, rather than relying on literary or folk language. Second, they self-consciously connected their practices to those in the West, measuring their own work against that of their counterparts in Europe, and thus implying that the work of science transcended the...

    • 11 ‘Let Them Go Crazy’: Madness in the Works of Chekhov
      (pp. 192-207)

      Anton Chekhov considered medicine to be his ‘lawful wife.’¹ There is no doubt that medicine played an essential role in the writer’s life and work. At university, Anton and his brother Alexander planned to write an article entitled ‘The History of Sexual Authority from the Point of View of Natural Science’ (PSS: Letters1: 63–6); after graduation, he collected material for a historical dissertation to be entitled ‘Medicine in Russia’ (PSS: Works16: 277–356); and as a mature writer, Chekhov planned to defend his doctoral dissertation on the basis of his bookSakhalin Island. One of his late...

    • 12 The Genetics of Genius: V.P. Efroimson and the Biosocial Mechanisms of Heightened Intellectual Activity
      (pp. 208-225)

      The Russian geneticist and polymath Vladimir Pavlovich Efroimson (1908–9) characterized himself as ‘a generator of ideas.’ Toward the end of his life, he recreated the context of some of these ideas in a series of letters he wrote to the daughter of a deceased friend. In one letter, he recalls the inception of the idea to which he would devote much of his last decade. ‘I had thrown myself into the furthest breach – the study of human genetics. In 1969, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, I stumbled upon the mechanism of potential genius.’¹ Until the end of his life, Efroimson...

    • 13 Madwomen without Attics: The Crazy Creatrix and the Procreative Iurodivaia
      (pp. 226-241)

      At least since Plato, the perceived intersection of artistic creativity and religious fervour at the higher level of madness has begged the question of reason’s secular, prosaic limitations. The Russian tradition ascribes to a ‘fine madness’¹ both the enigma of self-denying and self-degrading spirituality (evidenced in hagiographies and the philosophy of Grigorii Skovoroda and Vladimir Solov’ev), and the flights of poetic exaltation inaccessible to the average being ‘circumscribed’ by reason: i.e., the image of the artist conceived by Plato, and extended, among others, by Schelling, Schopenhauer, Coleridge, Hoffmann, Pushkin, and Odoevskii. In this presumptive, under-theorized equation between irrationality and (almost...

    • 14 A ‘New Russian’ Madness? Fedor Mikhailov’s Novel Idiot and Roman Kachanov’s Film Daun Khaus
      (pp. 242-262)

      Since the first publication of Fedor Dostoevsky’s Idiot (1868), ‘a charge ... [has been] advanced time and time again – that [its] characters were all psychopaths and hence irrelevant to the real world of normal people’ (Terras,Idiot10). However, in 2001 two works of art, in different media, independently and almost simultaneously revisited the novel, using it as a basis for a relentlessly ironic description of post-Soviet Russia populated with colourful New Russian characters (the so-callednovye russkieor nouveaux riches).¹ What made Dostoevsky’s psychopaths suddenly so relevant to twenty-first-century Russia that they had to be given a fresh makeover...

    • 15 Methods of Madness and Madness as a Method
      (pp. 263-282)

      This essay is about two kinds of madness, poetic and philosophic, or ecstatic and doctrinal. I will explore madness as a cultural symbol rather than as a medical fact, the poetics and metaphysics of madness rather than its clinical aspect. I will try to show the connection between madness and the tendencies of the creative mind, to characterize a method of critical reading founded on the hypothesis of an author’s madness, and then to trace briefly theself-criticalside of this method.

      Madness (bezumie) is a language. Culture expresses itself in this language as eloquently as it does in the...

  9. Afterword
    (pp. 283-300)

    In March 2005 an article in the leading Russian psychiatric journal reported the results of a survey of Muscovites’ attitudes toward the mentally disturbed (Serebriskaia). According to the author, the majority (70 per cent) of people in her sample agreed withbothof the following statements: (1) ‘most of the mentally disturbed are harmless’ and (2) ‘the mentally disturbed are dangerous.’ Furthermore, almost as many of the Muscovites she surveyed said they would willingly befriend a ‘crazy’ person (39 per cent) as insisted that all of the insane should be isolated from society (43 per cent). While the great majority...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-328)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 329-331)