Thomas Szasz Against the Theorists

Since the publication of The Myth of Mental Illness and Psychiatric Justice some 35 years ago, Thomas Szasz has battled the popular conception of mental illness as a disease "like any other." He has long argued against the involuntary interning of the mentally ill, against denying the mentally ill their constitutional right to trial, and against exonerating criminals from responsibility for their actions on the basis of "temporary insanity." Thomas Szasz is a professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York in Syracuse.

There is a strange and wondrous story by Edgar Allan Poe called "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," in which the reader is never quite certain, at least until the end, just who is the superintendent and who is the patient in a Maison de Sante outside of Paris in the first half of the 19th century. Indeed, there is sufficient role reversal taking place so that the reader is unrelieved of doubt on the doctor-patient role even after the story is concluded, hi the short story, Poe mixes terror and kindness, sickness is commingled with health, lucidity with imaginings of all sorts. Overall, we are left with grave doubt as to the relationships of people to each other—especially in confined settings, or what Erving Goffman preferred to call total institutions. The human condition is neither comedic nor tragic, but some ever-changing admixture...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here