Building the Virtual Asylum: Protecting the Boundaries of Normality Through the Visualization of Madness
Numerous researchers have given sustained focus to how visual representations impact public perceptions of mental illness. Often, however, analyses of such images focus upon the visual representations of mental illness without moving beyond an argument advocating for the abandonment of such imagery. A shift from focusing solely upon the recognition of problematic images toward examining the complexity of why these images persist can provide additional insight into the dominant and often entrenched cultural practices and understandings that serve to protect the boundaries of a presumed normality. Michel Foucault’s writing and lectures on madness provide an important foundation for considering the relationship between stigmatization and visual culture. Foucault’s archaeology explores an ongoing tendency to place the “mad” out of sight and/or to return the mad to a position of temporary visibility in order to elucidate moral arguments or to display these individuals as specimens for scientific analysis. Informed by Foucault’s (1961) archaeology of madness, Julia Kristeva’s (1982) concept of the abject, and Nicholas Mirzoeff’s (2002) application of Jacques Derrida’s (1994) “hauntology” to a visual culture of exile, this paper explores how the identity of the “normal” is constructed through the fear of and confinement of the “abnormal” within the virtual “asylum” of visual culture. In this sense, the actual definition of stigma through its references to a literal and metaphorical marking of the body can provide insight into what underlies these desires to mark and control the “mentally ill” Other through and within visual culture.
Keywords: Disability, Visual Culture, Art, Mental Illness
Dr. Jennifer Eisenhauer
Assistant Professor, Department of Art Education, The Ohio State University