‘Eigenschaften ohne Mann’: Madness and Introspection in Marcellus Emants’s 'Een nagelaten bekentenis' (1894) (‘Eigenschaften ohne Mann’: Waanzin en introspectie in Marcellus Emants’s 'Een nagelaten bekentenis' (1894)

Ernst Van Alphen

Abstract


In the dominant discourse madness is considered as the opposite of rationality. It concerns the decline, and in extreme cases even the disappearance of rationality in the organization of human conduct and experience. In this article the author explores a more recent, modernist discourse on madness. The new discourse does not understand madness as a decline of rationality, but as an increase or intensification of reason. Madness is not the result of abundance of passions, emotions and vitality but rather of the estrangement from these. This modernist discourse on madness manifests itself in literary novels that magnify the practice of introspection to the most extreme extent. These novels feature a first-person narrator who reflects relentlessly and ruthlessly on his own conduct, feelings and experiences. In these cases the narrative device of first-person narration is symptomatic for a new attitude towards human consciousness and the faculty of reason that substantiates it. In order to better understand the radical effects of introspection through first-person narration, the author focuses on the Dutch novel A Posthumous Confession (Een nagelaten bekentenis) from 1894 by Marcellus Emants. The novel has not been read for its first-person speech act of confession; a plot that consists of a confession that is built on merciless selfanalysis and introspection. In order to understand the literary and psychological impact of this activity the author compares Emants’ novel with other narratives that consist of the same speech act of relentless introspection, first of all with Robert Musil’s monumental icon of modernism, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, then with Why I am not Mad (Waarom ik niet krankzinnig ben) from 1929 by the Dutch writer Maurits Dekker, and the novella The Kreutzer Sonata by the Russian writer Lev Tolstoy (1891). The ground of comparison is the status of the speech act as plot, and the question how it produces madness.

Keywords


Modernism; Madness; Introspection; First Person Narration; Marcellus Emants; Modernisme; Waanzin; Introspectie; Ik-verteller; Marcellus Emants

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