In his notebook, W. J. T. Mitchell examines the visual representations of insanity in contemporary cinema. The staging of insanity in movies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries poses the question of whether cinema, in its hypervisibility, has succeeded in making the gestures of insanity perceptible. The visual theorist Mitchell believes that movies make it possible to see and hear madness “from within.” This seeing is constructed from the side of the medium and culminates in a “madness of the visible,” which allows viewers to be touched by the one who is mad. As soon as the experience of madness is mediated and accessible as a social space, the bound between the “normal” and the “insane” becomes tightened, to a degree where, to paraphrase Foucault, one day we will not know anymore what constitutes insanity.
W. J. T. Mitchell (*1942) is Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago.