Dancing with Ophelia
108 pages

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108 pages

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"Twenty-two years ago, I lost my mind." So begins Jeanne Ellen Petrolle's fascinating personal narrative about her mental illness and recovery. Drawing on literature, art, and philosophy, Petrolle explores a unique understanding of madness that allowed her to achieve lasting mental health without using long-term psychiatric drugs.

Traditionally, Western literature, art, and philosophy have portrayed madness through six concepts created from myth—Escape into the Wild, Flight from a Scene of Terror, Visit to the Underworld, Dark Night of the Soul, Spiritual Passion, and Fire in the Mind. Rather than conceptualizing madness as "illness," a mythopoetic concept assumes that madness contains symbolic meaning and offers valuable insight into human concerns like love, desire, sex, adventure, work, fate, spirituality, and God. Madness becomes an experience that unleashes extraordinary creativity by generating the spiritual insight that fuels artistic productivity and personal transformation. By weaving her personal experiences with the life stories and work of surrealist painter Leonora Carrington and modernist novelist Djuna Barnes, Petrolle shows how poetic thinking about severe mental distress can complement strategies for managing mental illness. This approach allowed her, and hopefully others, to produce better long-term treatment outcomes.
Author’s Note

1. Through the Looking Glass

2. Where the Wild Things Are

3. Escape, Flight, Freedom, and Survival

4. Mad Love

5. Passions of the Mind

6. Traveling in the Underworld

7. Dark Nights of the Soul

8. Burning Alive and Rising from the Dead

9. The Power of the Paradigm

10. Things We Do with Words




Publié par
Date de parution 21 novembre 2017
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781438468808
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0998€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Cover image: Leonora Carrington, “The Temple of the Word.” © 2017 Estate of Leonora Carrington/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Published by State University of New York Press, Albany
© 2018 State University of New York
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Excelsior Editions is an imprint of State University of New York Press
For information, contact State University of New York Press, Albany, NY
Production, Jenn Bennett
Marketing, Fran Keneston
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Petrolle, Jeanne Ellen, author.
Title: Dancing with Ophelia : reconnecting madness, creativity, and love / Jeanne Ellen Petrolle.
Description: Albany, NY : State University of New York Press, [2018] | Series: Excelsior editions | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017017029 (print) | LCCN 2017047165 (ebook) | ISBN 9781438468808 (ebook) | ISBN 9781438468785 (paperback : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Petrolle, Jeanne—Mental health. | Manic-depressive persons—United States—Biography. | Mentally ill—Patients—United States—Biography.
Classification: LCC RC516 (ebook) | LCC RC516 .P48 2018 (print) | DDC 616.89/50092 [B]—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017017029
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And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
—Ecclesiastes 1:17
Through the Looking Glass
Where the Wild Things Are
Escape, Flight, Freedom, and Survival
Mad Love
Passions of the Mind
Traveling in the Underworld
Dark Nights of the Soul
Burning Alive and Rising from the Dead
The Power of the Paradigm
Things We Do with Words
T his book blends literature scholarship, art history, cultural analysis, biography, and memoir. As all writers and readers of memoir know, the genre raises questions about privacy and questions about truth. Inevitably, any individual’s story touches the stories of others. These proximities created ethical dilemmas as I wrote because in my moral universe, no one else’s story is mine to tell. Only my story is mine to tell. So my confessional bravado ends where other people’s privacy begins. However, it was tricky in places to tell my story without revealing more than I cared to about the private lives of others. I solved this problem not by falsifying details but by eliding details that were not absolutely necessary to the tales being told in service of this book’s central concerns. In addition to protecting the privacy of others, I wanted to balance the prudence of discretion with the genre’s demand for self-revelation. I have tried to manage my privacy settings wisely, including whatever my analytical purpose required while omitting material not essential to this purpose. So, I have arranged, re-arranged, and elided details in order to meet my own ethical standards, but have not, to the best of my knowledge, invented or altered events.
Many people contribute to the creation of a book and this book seemed to require more than the usual number of early readers and supporters. I thank everyone who read early drafts of chapters, offered feedback, and/or supported my process: Teresa Arcq, Corrine Calice, Ana Croegaert, Ken Daley, Pam Daniels, Paula Froehle, Heather Hancock, Ames Hawkins, Whitney Huber, Rosalyn Johnson, Steve Kapelke, Garnett Kilberg Cohen, Katrina Kemble, Aviya Kushner, David Lazar, Eric Levy, Jessica Littman, Louise Love, Sarah Lovinger, RoseAnna Mueller, Sarah Odishoo, Angelo Petrolle, June Petrolle, Doug Reichert Powell, Pegeen Reichert Powell, Ann Rosewall, Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, Sharon Silverman, and Lois Zamora. Columbia College Chicago generously awarded me a two-year Faculty Research Fellowship in the early stages of the writing process. I doubt the project would have come to fruition without that opportunity to focus on research and writing. The English Department at Columbia College Chicago supported me with travel funds and editorial assistance on this project. I owe a great debt to my institution’s generous support.
I also thank Michael James Kelly and Evan Alexander Petrolle, who make my life an ongoing adventure in creativity and love.
T wenty-two years ago, I lost my mind. Although I would not recommend it as a lifestyle, insanity is something I wish everyone could experience once. Now I understand why madness has fascinated artists and philosophers across millennia, and why the Surrealists, who strove to live life as poetry, considered madness the ultimate adventure in selfhood. For me, as for many others, the suspension of reason and judgment, before becoming dangerous, cast enchantments across perception, remaking the ordinary into the wonderful. As the mind loosens its grip on reality, daily life acquires the strange beauty of dream, fairytale, and myth—a world filled with marvelous characters, landscapes, and events. Exquisite. Astonishing. Occasionally frightening. When I went to see The Walls , a play about madness developed from psychotic women’s journals, I identified with a central character, who says about her hallucinations, “there are times when you just can’t imagine the impossible beauty of it.” 1 Although my experience of madness did not include hallucinations, it did include a condition for which the clinical term is hyperacusis —a state of heightened perception in which hearing becomes more acute, sight more vivid, and the faculties of taste, smell, and touch wildly responsive. Beauty strikes the senses in a deluge of glory. And terror can spring out of the most ordinary daily activities. Insanity initiates the mind into depths of beauty—and depths of terror—unimaginable to the sane. This aspect of madness deserves more airtime.
We live in an age of faith in science and medicine. So we take a biomedical approach to madness. We call madness mental illness , placing it firmly in the category of sickness, focusing single-mindedly on its negative effects, which we try to eradicate with drugs. In our fascination with the chemistry of madness, we tend to ignore the poetics of madness—the connection of madness to beauty, truth, creativity, spirituality, and the sublime. In the three millennia of literature and philosophy that preceded psychiatry, madness was associated with all these things. Whenever poetry, creativity, love, and madness are mentioned in the same sentence, it raises the question of whether there is danger in romanticizing madness. There is. There is also a danger in de-romanticizing madness. Madness is dangerous, romanticized or otherwise. Experiencing madness is dangerous, and receiving treatment for madness is dangerous. There is no way to make madness or its treatment completely safe.
Romanticizing madness too much can result in a failure to provide medical care and personal safety for persons suffering madness. De-romanticizing madness too much can lead to oversimplification—reducing the experience to a chemical reaction that we try to subject to chemical control while ignoring its social, spiritual, and aesthetic dimensions. This oversimplification can result in a failure to perceive value in the experience, or to make the experience meaningful. When we are unable to find value and meaning in our most difficult experiences, we cannot integrate them into a process of personal development that leads to positive long-term outcomes such as suitable work, rewarding relationships, emotional stability, spiritual vitality, and a sense of belonging to the human community.
I use the term “madness” rather than “mental illness” not to insult anyone and not to be deliberately unfashionable or unscientific, but to restore the millennia-old associations between madness and various forms of intellectual and spiritual power. Shakespeare, whose plays frequently portray madness, wrote in A Midsummer Night’s Dream : “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination all compact.” 2 Shakespeare’s line connects madness with love and creativity—this is the connection at the heart of a poetic understanding of madness. A poetic approach assumes that madness, like literature and dreaming, contains meaning and offers insight into such central human concerns as love, desire, sex, adventure, work, fate, spirituality, and God. Madness—defined as any atypical mental state severe enough to cause social difficulty—has a history in literature long before Shakespeare. Faced with the task of recovering from what looked like a manic episode, I balanced my use of the biomedical tools available to me with a poetic understanding of madness drawn from the long history of madness in literature, art, philosophy, and religious wri

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