The Mad Man

“I Will Not Descend Among Professors and Capitalists”: Academia, the Body and Political Economy in Samuel R. Delany’s The Mad Man.

This presentation is part of a dissertation project on academic novels and the politics of black intellectuals. Samuel R. Delany’s The Mad Man (1994) is an academic novel set in New York in the 1980s during the HIV/AIDS crisis. The novel is narrated by John Marr, a black gay graduate student in philosophy. Described by Delany as a “pornotopic fantasy” The Mad Man combines the world of academic philosophy with scatological fantasies of public sex on the streets of New York. In The Mad Man Delany stresses the centrality of the body (and all of its messy functions) to the production of philosophical ideas. In particular I would like to put Delany’s novel in conversation with the work of Norman O. Brown. In books such as Life Against Death (1959) and Love’s Body (1966), Brown examined the relationship between psychoanalysis, spirituality and commerce. I am reading The Mad Man as an academic novel and I am interested in how Delany uses this genre to explore complex ideas about race, sexuality, education, and money.

Africana Studies Dissertations Discussions at IRADAC (Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean)

Room 8402,CUNY Graduate Center
October 14, 2011, 12pm-2pm

Some helpful links:
-Steven Shaviro wrote a couple of interesting posts  on his blog about The Mad Man here and here.
-Coincidentally, Shaviro also wrote a great piece about Norman O. Brown as well.
-A good (auto)biography of Samuel R. Delany can be found here (written by his critical alter-ego “K. Leslie Steiner”)
-And to tip my hand a bit, the title I’m using is not from Delany but from Walt Whitman’s notebooks for Leaves of Grass, specifically this page which appears just before the first lines that made it into the poem.  Whitman scholar Ed Folsom mentioned this line in the wonderful PBS documentary on Whitman and I thought it resonated with the ideas in Delany’s novel.

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