Theme of madness in a short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” by Edgar Allan Poe and in a similarly-named film by Claude Chabrol

Keywords: film adaptation, phenomenon of madness, postmodern aesthetics, romantic canon, surrealist style, a verbal image, a visual-plastic image


The article considers the theme of madness as a cultural phenomenon in its romantic (Edgar Poe) and postmodern (Claude Chabrol) film interpretation. The study is based on the cultural and philosophical concept of madness grounded by Michel Foucault. The historical existence of madness phenomenon has two types of its perception distinguished, ‘cosmic’, which is the tragic madness of the world, and ‘critical’, which is peculiar to human consciousness and behavior, generating the ironic understanding. According to the philosopher, the cosmic and critical cultural experience of madness is embodied in visually plastic (pictorial) and verbal (literary) forms respectively. The verbal and literary specifics of creating an aesthetic image of madness within the romantic canon in Edgar Allan Poe’s story is compared with the peculiarities of the visual-sound plastic form of the images in Claude Chabrol’s film, created in the style of surrealism. In Poe’s story madness appears as a local phenomenon, a state of human consciousness determining the way of thinking and the specifics of behavior. The main way how the writer creates the characters includes their behavioral characteristics and speech. In Chabrol’s film interpretation the theme of madness unfolds gradually, being embodied in visual images, the pace of the film, the changing intraframe composition, the specific movement in the frame, the speed and rhythm of cutting, the color and sound of the film. Within the postmodernism aesthetics the director, inserting surrealistic Buñuel’s intertext, using the techniques of playing with the audience and varying interpretations of the end, focuses on the cosmic experience of madness, transforming Poe’s romantic-ironic interpretation into a understanding the “tragic madness of the world”.


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How to Cite
Stepanova, A. (2019). Theme of madness in a short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” by Edgar Allan Poe and in a similarly-named film by Claude Chabrol. Cognition, Communication, Discourse, (19), 113-121.