Chapter

Epilogue: Echoes

in Theaters of Madness

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780226709635
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226709659 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226709659.003.0008
Epilogue: Echoes

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Histories of psychiatry tell us that the moral treatment movement in America ended in the decades after the Civil War. And yet it is not entirely over, even today. In literature and popular culture, a vogue for mental illness persists and in some ways has crested, as in the “outsider art” that exoticizes the creativity of the usually untutored mentally ill and sells it for high prices. Many of the great public asylums constructed during the utopian moral treatment movement now lie in disuse, disrepair, or near-ruination. This epilogue seeks traces of the moral treatment in the contemporary scene in psychiatry, literature, and popular culture. While our society remains fascinated by the specter of madness—as manifested in popular memoirs and Hollywood films—we have lost the sense of its broad social implications. And though a chastened, perhaps matured version of the moral treatment's faith in the efficacy of culture in the treatment of mental illness lives on, it does so almost exclusively in elite, private psychiatric hospitals.

Keywords: psychiatric hospitals; madness; psychiatry; moral treatment movement; America; mental illness; asylums; literature; popular culture

Chapter.  2558 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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