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quotations about madness

Madness designates the equinox between the vanity of night's hallucinations and the non-being of light's judgments.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

The mentally disturbed do not employ the Principle of Scientific Parsimony: the most simple theory to explain a given set of facts. They shoot for the baroque.


To think that the spectre you see is an illusion does not rob him of his terrors: it simply adds the further terror of madness itself -- and then on top of that the horrible surmise that those whom the rest call mad have, all along, been the only people who see the world as it really is.

C.S. LEWIS, Perelandra

Great wits are sure to madness near allied;
And thin partitions do their bonds divide.

JOHN DRYDEN, Absalom and Achitophel

There are so many kinds of madness, so many ways in which the human brain may go wrong; and so often it happens that what we call madness is both reasonable and just. It is so. Yes. A little reason is good for us, a little more makes wise men of some of us--but when our reason over-grows us and we reach too far, something breaks and we go insane.

JAMES OLIVER CURWOOD, "The Case of Beauvais," Back to God's Country and Other Stories

Like madness is the glory of this life
As this pomp shows to a little oil and root.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, The Life of Timon of Athens

Facts by themselves can often feed the flame of madness, because sanity is a spirit.

G.K. CHESTERTON, "On the Classics," Selected Essays

Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be!


Anger is a brief madness.

HORACE, Epistles

Life without utopia is suffocating, for the multitude at least: threatened otherwise with petrifaction, the world must have a new madness.

E.M. CIORAN, History and Utopia

Sanity brings pain
but madness is a vile thing.

EURIPIDES, Hippolytus

Madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does.


Perhaps this is the bottom line to mental illness: incomprehensible events occur; your life becomes a bin for hoax-like fluctuations of what used to be reality. And not only that--as if that weren't enough--but you ... ponder forever over these fluctuations in an effort to order them into a coherancy, when in fact the only sense they make is the sense you impose on them, out of necessity to restore everything into shapes and processes you can recognize. The first thing to depart in mental illness is the familiar. And what takes its place is bad news because not only can you not understand it, you also cannot communicate it to other people. The madman experiences something, but what it is or where it comes from he does not know.


Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence— whether much that is glorious— whether all that is profound— does not spring from disease of thought— from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.


I don't know what it is with the mad, but they've certainly got force of will. Maybe it's not having the checks and balances the rest of us have, or perhaps I'm kidding myself: maybe their minds are simply clearer, unclouded with the anxieties and morality that the rest of us are swaddled with. Perhaps they have the courage to point their magical thinking at the stars.


And men, whose reason long was blind,
From cells of madness unconfined,
Oft lose whole years of darker mind.


Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through. It is potential liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death.

R. D. LAING, "Transcendental Experience in Relation to Religion and Psychosis", The Psychedelic Review, 1964

I have seen mad people, and I have known some who were quite intelligent, lucid, even clear-sighted in every concern of life, except on one point. They could speak clearly, readily, profoundly on everything; till their thoughts were caught in the breakers of their delusions and went to pieces there, were dispersed and swamped in that furious and terrible sea of fogs and squalls which is called MADNESS.


It is an unfortunate fact that the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence those isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by a psychologically sensitive few, which lie outside its common experience. Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism.

H. P. LOVECRAFT, "The Tomb"

Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.

GEORGE SANTAYANA, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion

Madness is an excited mind, indulging in the dreams of imagination, until the heated fancy makes chimeras appear real.

CHARLES WILLIAM DAY, The Maxims, Experiences, and Observations of Agogos

Let it be said that one of the first symptoms of psychosis is that the person feels perhaps he is becoming psychotic. It is another Chinese fingertrap. You cannot think about it without becoming part of it. By thinking about madness, [one] ... slipped by degrees into madness.


Madness hath imaginary bliss, and most men have no more.

MARTIN FARQUHAR TUPPER, Proverbial Philosophy

Even if one understands that what one is doing is mad, it is indeed still madness.


There is no point in driving yourself mad trying to stop yourself going mad. You might just as well give in and save your sanity for later.

DOUGLAS ADAMS, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into still subtler form.


Madness, in its wild, untamable words, proclaims its own meaning; in its chimeras, it utters its secret truth.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, Madness & Civilization

In an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness.

SAUL BELLOW, Henderson the Rain King

Whom the gods destroy they first make mad.

ROBERT E. HOWARD, Kull: Exile of Atlantis

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
'Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur — you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

EMILY DICKINSON, "Much Madness is divinest Sense"

The madman is ... confused. He muddles ego with self, inner with outer, natural and supernatural. Nevertheless, he often can be to us, even through his profound wretchedness and disintegration, the hierophant of the sacred. An exile from the scene of being as we know it, he is an alien, a stranger, signalling to us from the void in which he is foundering. This void may be peopled by presences that we do not even dream of. They used to be called demons and spirits, that were known and named. He has lost his sense of self, his feelings, his place in the world as we know it. He tells us he is dead. But we are distracted from our cozy security by this mad ghost that haunts us with his visions and voices that seem so senseless and of which we feel impelled to rid him, cleanse him, cure him.

R. D. LAING, "Transcendental Experience in Relation to Religion and Psychosis", The Psychedelic Review, 1964


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