A Medium of Madness: Neurodiversity in American Experimental Cinema


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art and Art History


This project recounts and reframes a series of twentieth-century American experimental films where neurodiversity emerges in the films’ forms, contents, production, and/or reception. Each of the chapters is centered around films whose aesthetic and social histories engage with questions of madness or cognitive difference while also historicizing the films in relationship to contemporaneous theories and research within psy disciplines. This project evaluates trance films of the early- to mid-twentieth century, post-war psychedelic structuralist and expanded cinema, metaphors of madness in 1970s and 80s films surrounding issues of race and gender, and late twentieth-century personal films about mental distress that question ideas of progress, cure, and mental/emotional autonomy. By conceiving of neurodiversity as including the social experiences of mental disability as well as the medical perspectives of psychology and psychiatry, four chapters outline a theory of how experimental cinema offers alternative subjectivities in relation to medical perceptions of cure or illness.