|Description||What are the changing criteria which make Outsider Writing "literary" and readable, not merely pathological, incoherent or endlessly boring? Schreber’s Memoirs of my Nervous Illness are now presented by New York Review Editions as a literary work, while Henry Darger’s Story of the Vivian Girls awaits publication even as its illustrations appear in major national collections. Several poets’ work has been divided conventionally into literary and "disturbed" non-literary writing, from Hölderlin to Ivor Gurney to John Wieners, while William Blake’s work continues to teeter on the boundary. How sustainable are these divisions? Might reading "outsider" literature change the way we read works accepted as literary? |
Modernist literary movements (for instance, expressionism and surrealism) aligned their aesthetic positions with "madness" and psychosis, provoking the attack on modernist writing as itself insane or degenerate. This in turn rendered texts curated in the psychiatric archives legible as modernist or experimental. Are such tactical connections adequate for exploring the cultural and formal range of outsider texts? Or do they impose another quarantine, protecting the disciplines of the avant-garde artist from the unhealthy obsessions of the outsider? Are there alternative frames – neither literary nor psychiatric – within which we might situate outsider texts, resisting the global designation "outsider" for more situated anthropological or ethnographic descriptions? Or might outsider texts, once identified, constitute an exceptional aesthetic field, either terminably indefinable, or requiring a new logic of interpretation?
This conference, part of the Outsider Writing research project at the Neubauer Collegium, will include a full day of presentations on specific works and aesthetic judgment, and background presentations on the influence of outsider writing on the literary, taking cues from the National Gallery (DC) exhibition Outliers and American Vanguard Art, Louis Sass’s Madness and Modernism and Jerome Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman’s outsider anthology Barbaric Vast and Wild. A second day (Oct 28) will consist of a closed seminar focused on collective readings of selected texts.