Saturday, March 27, 2010

Madness on CAN-TV

Pardon my silence. I have been tracking down permissions for CAN-TV to show some Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington images when they broadcast my Women, Creativity, and Madness lecture this week. Showtimes are

Sunday, March 28, at 5, Channel 19
Monday, March 29, 12pm, Channel 19
Wednesday, March 31, 12pm, Channel 21
Friday, April 9, 12pm, Channel 21

As I've been working on the Women, Creativity, and Madness book, and helping CAN-TV with the broadcast these past two weeks, I have also been reading Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, (1641-1695) a Mexican woman of letters who, to avoid marriage, entered a convent to pursue her passion for reading, writing, and thinking. Sor Juana's literary pursuits angered her superiors in the Church hierarchy, who were not pleased that a woman of such sharp intellect dared to be a public intellectual. At least twice in her letter to Sor Filotea de la Cruz, which is a defense of the right of women to read, write, think, and publish, Sor Juana describes her passion for learning as a madness that she cannot control. "I looked on nothing without reflexion," she writes, "I heard nothing without meditation . . . . Thus . . . I saw and admired all things; so that even the very persons with whom I spoke, and the things they said, were cause for a thousand meditations. . . . This manner of reflection has always been my habit, and is quite beyond my will to control; on the contrary, I am wont to become vexed that my intellect makes me weary; and I believed it was so with everyone, as well as making verses, until experience taught me otherwise; and it is so strong in me this nature, or custom, that I look at nothing without giving it further examination. Once in my presence two young girls were spinning a top and scarcely had I seen the motion and the figure described, when I began, out of this madness of mine, to meditate on the effortless motus of the spherical form, and how the impulse persisted even when free and independent of its cause . . . "

Sor Juana's descriptions of her own thought process, which closely resemble how my thoughts feel, present madness as perpetual thinking, and perpetual thinking as madness. Like Sor Juana, I also thought that all people thought all the time about everything. My brother Jeffrey has informed me on a number of occasions, however, that this tendency to perpetual thought is a disturbance peculiar to me. Because I am surrounded with scholars, poets, philosophers, and artists almost all the time, it is easy for me to feel "normal"--like thinking is what everyone does. But it happens now and again, that when I wander outside my circled, someone points out how odd it is to think all the time. Thinking about things like time and space and being and power and existential purpose--the subjects that seem ordinary for scholars and other writers and artists--are apparently, not what normal people think about.


  1. Great post. I too find myself having thoughts about things even as I'm experiencing them--and then I think about those things again later, adding new layers of ideas. Sor's style (may I call her Sor?) is wonderfully dense; I love sentences that never end...thanks for introducing her to me.

  2. Check out the doc trailer featuring Leonora Carrington at

  3. Thanks Dharmasu. I recognize Leonora's kitchen! Something tells me we have been in the same place at the same time!