History of Madness the Focus of UB Humanities Conference

A deep look at what we define as crazy and what it says about us

Release Date: October 23, 2008 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. – The various histories of "madness" and what the term means today will be the subject of extensive discussion at the University at Buffalo's 2008 Humanities Institute Conference October 31-November 1.

The keynote speaker will be Marjorie Garber, Ph.D., of Harvard, a scholar and nimble-footed cultural detective who delights in pointing out the often weird connections that weave us into the web of our culture. Entertaining, much-published and a very popular speaker, she has trained her formidable interpretive gifts on everything from Shakespeare to dog love, often leaving readers and audiences astonished at her insights.

The conference "The Other Side of Reason: The History of Madness Today," will take place in the Center for the Arts on UB's North (Amherst) campus.

It is free of charge and open to the public. Registration will begin at 9:30 a.m. both mornings and presentations will begin at 10 a.m.

Pre-registration is not required, but visitors should contact the UB Humanities Institute at ub-humanities-institute@buffalo.edu or (716) 645-2711 to obtain a guest parking permit. The conference schedule is at www.humanitiesinstitute.buffalo.edu.

Speakers will address a number of topics, followed by a panel discussion led by UB faculty members. Among the topics are Heinz Kohut's conception of the "normalization" of narcissism; the criminalization of madness; "mad-lib"; the exclusions of reason in aboriginal truth, rhetoric and genealogy; creative writing and psychiatric surveillance (a discussion of the Virginia Tech mass murders and the politics of risk management).

In recognition of the recent publication of the complete English translation of Michel Foucault's enormously influential "History of Madness," speakers will discuss the philosopher's reinvention of history as a conversation about the relationship between madness and reason.

Keynoter Garber is described by Cornell University's Jonathan Culler as "consistently our shrewdest and most entertaining cultural critic," and by NYU's Catherine R. Stimpson, former director of the Fellows of MacArthur Foundation, as "the liveliest, wittiest, and most scintillating of writers about culture."

She has published 13 books (two more are forthcoming) and edited 12 editions of essays that address treats such subjects as Shakespeare (her principle topic), animal studies, literary theory, bisexuality and fascinating bits of cultural history – one of which is the Jell-O box used by prosecutor Roy Cohn to demonstrate how the Rosenbergs could have used it in their plot to destroy America.

Garber is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English, and professor and chair of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University, where she also directs the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.

Conference speakers also will include Elizabeth Lunbeck, Ph.D., the Nelson Tyrone, Jr. professor of American History, professor of psychiatry and chair of the Department of American History at Vanderbilt University; and Lacanian psychoanalyst Guy Le Gaufey, of the École Lacanienne de Psychoanalysis, Paris.

Also Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Ph.D., professor of anthropology, Columbia University, whose writing has focused on developing a critical theory of late liberalism, who looks at how the distinction between individual freedom and social bondage animates most theories and practices of sexuality.

Also Benjamin Reiss, Ph.D., associate professor of history, Emory University and author of "Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century American Culture" (University of Chicago Press, 2008), which explores the connections between early psychiatric institutions and cultural currents in the nineteenth century

Also Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Chair in American Culture, University at Buffalo, who has written books and essays on prison life and the criminal experience, storytelling and the construction of reality.

Panel moderators include UB faculty members Timothy J. Dean, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of the Humanities Institute; Steven L.Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor of English; Carrie Tirado Bramen, Ph.D., associate professor of English, Donald E. Pease, Ph.D., adjunct professor of English and Humanities Institute Distinguished Scholar in Residence; Diane Christian, Ph.D., SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor and Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology.

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.