How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind

Madness and Black Radical Creativity

How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind

Black Outdoors: Innovations in the Poetics of Study

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 4 illustrations Published: April 2021

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Cultural Studies

“Hold tight. The way to go mad without losing your mind is sometimes unruly.” So begins La Marr Jurelle Bruce's urgent provocation and poignant meditation on madness in black radical art. Bruce theorizes four overlapping meanings of madness: the lived experience of an unruly mind, the psychiatric category of serious mental illness, the emotional state also known as “rage,” and any drastic deviation from psychosocial norms. With care and verve, he explores the mad in the literature of Amiri Baraka, Gayl Jones, and Ntozake Shange; in the jazz repertoires of Buddy Bolden, Sun Ra, and Charles Mingus; in the comedic performances of Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle; in the protest music of Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, and Kendrick Lamar, and beyond. These artists activate madness as content, form, aesthetic, strategy, philosophy, and energy in an enduring black radical tradition. Joining this tradition, Bruce mobilizes a set of interpretive practices, affective dispositions, political principles, and existential orientations that he calls “mad methodology.” Ultimately, How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind is both a study and an act of critical, ethical, radical madness.


“This lyrical and profound tour de force explores the intersection of race and derailment, or ‘madness as methodology.’ We know that the traumatic discordance of slavery's enduring legacy manifests as both private sorrow and public health emergency. Yet that unyielding stress is sometimes also the forge of a radical black creativity vividly exceeding the shapeshifting states of un-Reason into which raced and nonnormative bodies are too relentlessly imagined and compressed. La Marr Jurelle Bruce has given a gift in this powerful recontextualization of black creative ‘madness’ as liberatory demand for expressive life—to wit, an aesthetic practice by which, ultimately, ‘what is stolen is returned, and what is unwritten is at last inscribed.’” — Patricia J. Williams, columnist for "Diary of a Mad Law Professor" in The Nation

“Innovative, evocative, and beautifully written, this book is a brilliant theorization and investigation of madness in the black radical tradition. La Marr Jurelle Bruce offers exquisite close readings, important archival interventions, deft theoretical pivots, and sophisticated engagement with black cultural practices in a study that will change the fields of black studies, American studies, performance studies, and disability studies. Bruce's book is a gift to us all as we try to make a way in this ever maddening world of antiblackness.” — Nicole R. Fleetwood, author of Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

La Marr Jurelle Bruce is Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
1. Mad Is a Place  1
2. "He Blew His Brains Out through the Trumpet": Buddy Bolden and the Impossible Sound of Madness  36
Interlude. "No Wiggles in the Dark of Her Soul": Black Madness, Metaphor, and "Murder!"  71
3. The Blood-Stained Bed  79
4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Mad Black Woman  110
5. "The People inside My Head, Too": Ms. Lauryn Hill Sings Truth to Power in the Key of Madness  139
6. The Joker's Wild but That Nigga's Crazy: Dave Chappelle Laughs until It Hurts  172
7. Songs in Madtime: Black Music, Madness, and Metaphysical Syncopation  201
Afterword. The Nutty Professor (A Confession)  231
Notes  239
Bibliography  303
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1087-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0983-2