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Picturing sanity, in black and white


This speculative work grapples with a riddle: if white supremacy is noxious, and if it is inescapable, is apparent black health, black sanity, in fact healthy? In order to help the reader appropriately appreciate the feat that is black sanity, I begin with a treatment of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s literary character, Mr Golyadkin. I go on to extend my claim that Golyadkin’s ill health or lack of sanity can be understood in terms of the violation of the norms of sociality, onto Antonin Artaud. Dostoevsky and Artaud therefore provide case studies with which it is possible to begin to develop an outline of the bounds and mechanics of white sanity. I juxtapose this outline to readings from a selection of works by African writers—Bessie Head, Véronique Tadjo and Dambudzo Marechera. This culminates in an interrogation of Franz Fanon’s metaphorisation of disability. I grapple especially with the ethical and existential implications of his understanding of black amputation. The conclusion that I eventually reach is another riddle, which may or may not amount to a restatement of the riddle with which I begin.

  • comparative literature studies
  • medical ethics/bioethics
  • rhetoric of bioethics
  • psychiatry

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