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Symptoms of Disorder: Reading Madness in British Literature 1744-1845 By Ilaria Nata ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Symptoms of Disorder:


Ilaria Natali and Annalisa Volpone1

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur —you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

Emily Dickinson, “Much Madness is divinest Sense”

Symptomizing Literary Madness: The Years 1744–1845

The ancient Greeks, Eugen Baer says, called the practice of medicine techne semeiotike, or “semiotic craft.”2 In more recent times, this definition has offered a new way of looking at medical relationships because it sheds light not only on the physician’s skill “to interpret semeia, signs,”3 but also on the communicational act taking place between the doctor and the patient. Given the long-standing connection between semiotics and the art of healing, it is not surprising that the idea of “symptom” has often attracted the attention of structuralist and post-structuralist thinkers. Medical symptoms, in fact, have been studied by Roland Barthes and