Dancing with Ophelia: Reconnecting Madness, Creativity, and Love

SUNY Press
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 A personal narrative that explores madness through the use of literature, art, and philosophy to achieve lasting mental health without drugs.
“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.

“This is an extraordinary book that combines meticulous literary scholarship with memoir. It bravely challenges us to reconsider and reframe mental illness, defined here as an ‘ultimate adventure in selfhood’ that connects to beauty, creativity, and the sublime. As it traces how skepticism of prevailing attitudes and treatments can save lives, Dancing with Ophelia is also, at its root, a deeply spiritual book that grapples with love, courage, ambition, and the idea of God.” — Aviya Kushner, author of The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible

“This book offers an interesting and engagingly written exploration of mental distress that draws on a range of literary and scholarly sources in combination with personal experience. It sits within the small, but growing, body of work that interweaves personal narrative with an academic analysis of ‘illness’ or disruption.” — Deborah Bowman, coauthor of Informed Consent: A Primer for Clinical Practice
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About the author

 Jeanne Ellen Petrolle is Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies at Columbia College Chicago and the author of Religion without Belief: Contemporary Allegory and the Search for Postmodern Faith, also published by SUNY Press.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Nov 21, 2017
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Pages
200
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ISBN
9781438468808
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Literary
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.  How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir.  In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his  cash.  He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented.  Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away.  Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless's short life.  Admitting an interst that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the dries and desires that propelled McCandless.  Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

When McCandless's innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris.  He is said  to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless's uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity , and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding--and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer's stoytelling blaze through every page.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
A Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times bestseller, Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s masterful memoir of his childhood in Ireland.

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy—exasperating, irresponsible, and beguiling—does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies.

Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors—yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness.

Angela’s Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt’s astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.
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