6th National Symposium
By taking its cue from Mitchell's lecture on the 2nd of February 2015, a National symposium organized around the lecture during 3rd and 4th February explored depictions of “insanity” and “madness” in art, literature and cinema alongside discussions on Mitchell's former research on the relations of visual and verbal representations in the context of social and political issues. Student researchers and professors from Baroda, Gandhinagar, Jaipur and Hyderabad working in the field of Literature, Cultural Studies, Political Science, Archaeology, Fine Arts and Sociology participated in the symposium and raised sensitive and nuanced questions on issues of theoretical and practical relevance. The nine individual presentations made during the two days of the symposium helped in disseminating exciting ideas and received supportive feedback from Prof. Mitchell.
E.V. Ramakrishnan, WJT Mitchell and P.C. Kar at the Symposium
On day one, E. V. Ramakrishnan, Professor Emeritus at the Central University of Gujarat gave an introduction on two short stories by popular Malayalam writer C. Ayyappan (1949-2011), titled - Spectral Speech and Madness. His presentation explored, how, as narratives of ghostly inhabitations (authors as ghosts or fantastical characters), these stories use elements from religious and spiritual practices of Dalit communities in Kerala to make strong articulations on issues of gender and caste. Shipra Upadhyay, academic fellow at Balvant Parekh Centre looked at the "desire" of the image in the "click of a camera” and the exciting ways one can deliberate on the photographic promises of "what the picture really wants?” Neeti Singh, from the Department English at MS University, Baroda worked on the trauma of partition and the link between creativity and mental illness as presented in Saadat Hasan Manto's (1912-1955) short story, “Toba Tek Singh.” Manto’s story is based on inmates of lunatic asylums being split in the wake of Partition; with Hindu and Sikh inmates being transferred to India and Muslim inmates going to Pakistan. Prof. Deeptha Achar's talk (Department of English, MS University) analyzed The Sackcloth Man, a short story for children developed by the education initiative of Anveshi, Hyderabad and written by Jayasree Kalathil. The slowly growing, unlikely and heart-warming friendship between Anu, a little girl and the village madman is at the heart of this story. During the last session for the day, Shaista Anwar of University of Hyderabad (Fine Arts) discussed the first person, aesthetic voice of the tree in Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red, (chapter 10) while Vasvi Oza of EFL University (Film Studies and Visual Culture) presented her doctoral work in progress: reading Gujarati textbooks for children with images through Mitchell’s “picture theory.”
On day two, Bini B.S discussed the subtexts of representation in (mostly visual) art from late 18th to early 21st century inspired by Ophelia's (a fictional character in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare ) madness and death. She worked closely with the conspicuous "bird" and "flower" imageries that work their way as leitmotifs in the paintings and photographs. Ananya Ghoshal of EFL University (Literature) studied the image-text relations in William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience including Blake's use of experimental calligraphy that according to Mitchell, "pushes the alphabetic writing toward the realm of pictorial values" (Picture Theory). Prof. Sudha Rai, senior ICSSR fellow concluded the session by exploring the representations of madness in Indian cinema. She used films like Khilona (1970), Park Avenue (2006) and A Drop of Sunshine (2011), a docu-feature on Reshma Valliappan, an artist-activist for issues related to mental health and her true story of recovery and living with schizophrenia, as prime examples.
To sum up, in "seeing" madness as represented in graphic or performative modes, Prof. Mitchell's lecture and the symposium offered innovative strategies in helping us recognize how the different mediums represent /challenge our preconceptions of madness and how gathering a sense of "visibility" of madness can work as an imperative tool for rethinking "insanity" outside its limited confinement within the clinical discourse of medicine and psychiatry.
PhD Scholar, The English and Foreign Languages University
Former Fulbright Nehru Pre Doctoral Fellow, UC Berkeley