Faculty Advisor

Jamie Zelechowski

Faculty Advisor

Marina Balina

Graduation Year

2019

Location

Room E103, Center for Natural Sciences, Illinois Wesleyan Universit

Start Date

21-4-2018 10:00 AM

End Date

21-4-2018 11:00 AM

Description

In 1962, as Cold War tensions approached their peak, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, a Swiss playwright, published his play The Physicists. Two of the most important topics in The Physicists are mental illness and ethical responsibility of scientists. Dürrenmatt’s three main characters: Möbius (a genius), Einstein (a Russian spy), and Newton (an American spy) are all physicists who appropriate the status of mentally ill in order to hide from society inside the Les Cerisiers Sanatorium. Their status as mentally ill acts as a cover up that reveals their different reasons for adapting that status–from Möbius attempt to escape the politics of the time, to Einstein and Newton engaging in those same politics. Using their status as mentally ill, the three men are able to convince society at large to leave them alone—while also avoiding any legal complications via an insanity defense. By having his characters act mentally ill, I argue that Dürrenmatt provides his characters with the “freedom” to choose not to participate in the new destructive processes promoted in post-World War II era societies. I further argue that Dürrenmatt challenges his audience to question their presumptions about mental illness, while also making them question the ethics behind allowing scientific discoveries to be revealed––particularly ones capable of mass destruction, if put in the wrong hands.

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Apr 21st, 10:00 AM Apr 21st, 11:00 AM

Science, Mental Illness, And Ethics In Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists

Room E103, Center for Natural Sciences, Illinois Wesleyan Universit

In 1962, as Cold War tensions approached their peak, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, a Swiss playwright, published his play The Physicists. Two of the most important topics in The Physicists are mental illness and ethical responsibility of scientists. Dürrenmatt’s three main characters: Möbius (a genius), Einstein (a Russian spy), and Newton (an American spy) are all physicists who appropriate the status of mentally ill in order to hide from society inside the Les Cerisiers Sanatorium. Their status as mentally ill acts as a cover up that reveals their different reasons for adapting that status–from Möbius attempt to escape the politics of the time, to Einstein and Newton engaging in those same politics. Using their status as mentally ill, the three men are able to convince society at large to leave them alone—while also avoiding any legal complications via an insanity defense. By having his characters act mentally ill, I argue that Dürrenmatt provides his characters with the “freedom” to choose not to participate in the new destructive processes promoted in post-World War II era societies. I further argue that Dürrenmatt challenges his audience to question their presumptions about mental illness, while also making them question the ethics behind allowing scientific discoveries to be revealed––particularly ones capable of mass destruction, if put in the wrong hands.