A new article in History of Psychiatry will be of interest to AHP readers, “The staff of madness: The visualization of insanity and the othering of the insane,” by Alvise Sforza Tarabochia. Abstract:
In this article I trace a history of the most ubiquitous visual symbol of madness: the staff. First, I argue that the staff, in its variants (such as the pinwheel) and with its attachments (such as an inflated bladder), represents madness as air. It thus represents madness as an invisible entity that must be made visible. Secondly, I claim that the staff – being iconic of other ‘unwanted’ categories such as vagabonds – represents the insane as outsiders. Also in this case, the staff serves the purpose of making madness visible. Through this interpretation I show that the urge to make madness visible outlives icons of insanity such as the staff, making it a constant presence in popular culture and medical practice.