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Hysteria, Neurasthenia, Melancholia – Literary-Medical Discourses on Mental Exhaustion and Gender since 1900

Marcella Fassio, Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Philosophy and Humanities, German and Dutch Philology (WE 4)

Current discussions on mental illnesses such as depression are shaped by historical medical and literary discourses on conditions like melancholia, neurasthenia, and hysteria. The long-standing tradition of linking gender and mental illness in literature and medicine makes it relevant to explore these historical connections for a better understanding of contemporary literary discussions on mental health. To what extent, then, have literary and medical discussions on mental exhaustion and illnesses been in dialogue since the literary modernist period and the emergence of psychoanalysis? Moreover, what connections or ruptures can be identified in representations from 1900 to the present day? This project, situated at the intersection of literary studies, gender studies, and medical (history), addresses these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective. In this course, we will explore not only literary texts but also medical and psychoanalytic writings to investigate these questions. The project is open to undergraduate and graduate students in literary studies, psychology, medicine (history/ethics), history, as well as individuals with a focus on gender theory in their studies.