Cate Reilly

Cate I. Reilly, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Literature and a Core Faculty Associate of the Health Humanities Lab. Her research begins from a conviction about the centrality of literature and literary-critical inquiry as tools for understanding mental health and illness. Cate takes psychoanalysis and the history of psychiatry as a starting point to explore the biopolitics of modernity from within a robust humanities framework, where literature is in critical dialogue with the sciences and law. By assessing the broad implications of international classification schemes developed at the turn of the century to standardize mental illness, Cate’s research studies how such systems not only intersected with the literary imagination of psychic abnormality but also how they continue to shape the premises of care and treatment today. Additional research interests include the role of language and culture in shaping formulations of pathology/disability, theories of the medical archive, the philosophical basis of diagnostic practices, and questions of power and inequality in a globalizing world.


Cate received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Princeton University, where her training in Central and Eastern European literature and language inflected her scholarship on theories of subject-formation, identity, and resistance. Her first book project continues in this line. It is tentatively titled, “Pieces of Mind: Making and Unmaking a Lexicon of the Psyche.” There, she revises traditional accounts of literature and madness by highlighting connections between the modernist literary avant-garde and international classifications of psychic abnormality: from the turn of the century to the present Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). Unlike thematic studies of madness, Cate’s work shows how contemporary lexicons of mental illness are the long-term product of an unexplored confluence between literature, psychiatry, and the encyclopedic Enlightenment endeavor to standardize knowledge about the human subject. She speaks Russian and German and has spent time teaching and researching in both locations, including extended work with the Institute for the History of Medicine in Berlin.


In Cate’s courses, students explore the case history as a genre across disciplines, and challenge their assumptions about the relationship between literature and science. New research on Cold War literary circulation between the GDR, Soviet Union, and Afro-Asian solidarity movements has led her to a connected interest in how traumatic first-person experiences of war and migration – past as well as present – are (and are not) adequately articulated by the norms of Anglocentric diagnostic practice.

Related courses