Fight Club (1999) Edward Norton and Brad Pitt (Screengrab)

In the spring of 2013, I gave a lecture at the Queens University MFA program called "The Privilege of Madness." The lecture was inspired by Hegel's line:

“The capacity for self-reflection is given to man alone. That is why he has, so to speak, the privilege of madness.” --Georg W.F. Hegel, Philosophie de l'esprit (1867)

First, I opened the lecture by talking through a sock puppet.

Not my classiest moment.

Then I had students call out some of their favorite crazy characters.

After the blackboard was filled with names, I introduced the art of writing mad characters with the following:

What is the purpose of the mad narrator? When an author begins a story, he or she should never start with this question.

Instead, they should ask: How will a mad narrator show the reader an unique experience?

We must recognize the privilege of madness: the remarkable and unique perspective a writer can achieve by placing a mad narrator at the helm of a story. The difference between fiction and reality is this: in fiction, madness can still use traditional narrative patterns or familiar, realistic tools without sacrificing story or plot, where in reality a “true” madman would not be able to construct something so gracefully.

Still with me? Okay.

After this lecture, I received a ton of requests for a transcription and the handouts that were present. So, I'm now providing those here on my website.

I hope these materials inspire you during your own writing process.

xoxo -- Catherine


Post-script: An incredible, in-depth read on this subject is Shoshana Felman's Writing and Madness, where I first discovered Hegel's line and to whom I owe a great deal. This document was the Glastonbury fount of my research. It's available in PDF format here: Writing_and_Madness

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