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.
You can download the 14-page lecture, "The Privilege of Madness," here: Privilege of Madness LECTURE
You can download just the separate handouts here: Privilege of Madness HANDOUT
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