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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions


GERST 2250 Genius and Madness in Literature

Course description

(summer only) This course is only offered in the Summer Session.

If you ever have thought that people of great achievement and ingenuity -- such as great statesmen, artists, heroes, scientists -- also exhibit a touch of madness, well, then you are not alone! Philosophers and poets for a few thousand years have contemplated the close kinship between madness and genius and have engaged in lively discussions about changing definitions of creativity as either ingenuity, inspiration, or insanity; as stemming from divine possession, originality, or fanatic enthusiasm. By reading philosophical and medical treatises, by examining texts of fiction and lyric poetry, as well as by including historical accounts, this course will find out when and why our culture decided to call a madman a genius and a genius mad. We shall trace the history of social and artistic transgression and analyze when and why a culture considers great talent as “too different,” as “pathological,” or as “un-normal.” You shall read texts ranging from Antiquity to the 18th and 20th centuries and encounter authors from Germany, France, Britain, and the United States. Guest lecturers from various Humanities departments will expand our view on genius as either a human condition, an artistic invention or the delusive state of “madness.”

Does not count toward major or minor. Taught in English.


The next offering of this course is undetermined at this time. Find similar upcoming programs by tag: culture, Ithaca, literature, philosophy, summer

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