The uses of madness in nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction : the relation between narrative strategy and disturbed states of consciousness
The thesis operates upon the premise that there has been, in the course of the last two centuries, a radical transformation in narrative presentations of exceptional states of consciousness. It sets out to identify the main characteristics of the fictional transformation, and to situate them in the context of wider cultural shifts. I decided to rest my approach upon the relatively conservative sense that, roughly speaking, the structural and linguistic analysis of a narrative topos - that is to say the protagonist's madness - can elicit a clearer understanding of the changing, underlying dynamics and thematics of fictional works as they emerge over a given historical period. The thesis is set out in two parts; Part I explores nineteenth century uses of madness, and Part II compares and contrasts more recent treatments. The study of the different presentations of madness in fiction is organized diachronically for heuristic purposes, although the typological emphasis of the thesis must eventually take precedence over the imposition of a rigid historical framework. In the nineteenth century it is predominantly an intellectually marginalized kind of fiction (often termed 'gothic') which deals with exceptional psychic experience. It does so in a way which engages with the treacherous 'otherness' of mad experience, which is often aligned with the supernatural. In these texts the position of the narrator in relation to such phenomenon is of paramount importance. More recent treatments of 'madness' display a tendency to undermine its 'otherness' and to move towards narrative identification with such states. The method of investigation functions upon several levels. In order to provide a constructive counter-perspective upon fictional treatments of madness and to forge the link with contemporary methodologies, the study commences with the narratological analysis of a work written by a (clinically diagnosed) psychotic author which has achieved the status of a classic within psychiatric, psychoanalytical and even recent cultural theory. The narrative structure of D. P. Schreber's Memoirs finds its equivalent in a kind of fiction identified in this thesis as 'paranoid'. Twentieth century clinical discourse increasingly has recourse to the very broad term 'schizophrenia' as a synonym for the outmoded term 'madness'. The current emphasis upon linguistic concerns in the definition and location of psychosis allows the critical grouping of certain kinds of texts under the heading of 'schizoid', due to the discovery of analogous characteristics at work within their (anti)narrative strategy. Again, these terms are heuristically intended and cannot be scientifically precise. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the current centrality of a terminology of psychopathology to the ways in which fictionists, critics and theorists describe, prescribe and understand the 'postmodern' self and world. This project offers an overview of attitudes to madness as they are transformed in fiction in the course of a historical period. The way in which madness functions in these texts is, first of all, not only as the instrument of literary exploration but also as a means of transgressing boundaries between sanity and insanity. The period is crucial, further, in its radical transitional nature with regard to concepts of fundamental import for the novel form: most particularly, ideas of the 'self' and ideas of 'reality', as objectively stable or as sub. iective and illusory. For the fictional articulation of these, the topos of 'madness' serves as the ultimate measure.