Thursday, 3rd May
Panel 1: Psychological Landscapes in New Media
“Unreliability and the Unstable Narrating Mind in Dear Esther (2012) and Layers of Fear (2016)” – Sarah E. Beyvers (University of Passau)
Unreliable narration is a phenomenon which has been discussed excessively in academic discourse since the 1960s. Ever since Wayne C. Booth introduced the concept of the unreliable narrator in 1961, scholars have attempted to define it, to determine textual signals, and to ascertain the cognitive processes in readers’ minds when they feel compelled to challenge a narrator’s reliability. Narrators’ psychological instability and mental illnesses, “insanity and trauma” (Yacobi and Sternberg 457), have always played a major role in the discussions surrounding unreliability. Greta Olson, for instance, classifies these narrators as fallible, in contrast to untrustworthy narrators, and calls their narrative shortcomings “situationally motivated” (101).
In my paper, I will look at how narrative unreliability is spawned by mental instability in video games and how madness becomes manifest in verbal and (audio)visual elements of the narrative. In Dear Esther (2012), the player is confronted with voiceover fragments of a letter correspondence which she can trigger by reaching certain points on a deserted island. Dear Esther’s narrator seeks the solitude of the island after losing his lover, the eponymous Esther, in a car accident; through his narrative, he strives to inscribe the island’s “always half-imagined” surface with his life and memories, while the player is compelled to question the narrator’s reliability to the point where she begins to question the island’s physical existence. Layers of Fear (2016), in contrast, puts the player in the place of a painter who, while trying to complete his magnum opus, loses all grasp of his sanity and reality. The game exclusively ascribes the painter, the sole focaliser of the game, the ability to ‘see’ and simultaneously establishes that his eyes are not to be trusted because his gaze is debunked as unreliable by the incorporation of instances wherein intrinsic and extrinsic realities bleed into each other.
On account of the multimodal configuration of video games, integrating visual, audiovisual, textual, interactive, and somatic or haptic elements in their narratives, the act of disassembling their individual semiotic components enables a better understanding of how unreliability works. In my analysis of unreliable narration in Dear Esther und Layers of Fear, I will thus examine the mechanisms of verbal and visual unreliable narration individually, the interplay between these elements and interactivity in the two video games, and, especially, how these aspects are connected to narrators’ mental instability.
Sarah E. Beyvers teaches British literature and culture at the University of Passau, Germany. She has published on video game studies, contemporary film, and collective creatorship in fandom. The articles “Semiotic Transitions and Genre Transgressions: Spectacleness and Theatricality in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014) and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015)” (Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies; with Florian Zitzelsberger; forthcoming) and “’The Good, the Bad and the Strudel’: How Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) Manipulates Its Audience with Violence” (Film Matters 7.3, 2016) shall be mentioned as examples. Since 2015, she regularly attends academic conferences revolving around pop culture and video game narration, and has presented papers at the ‘50 Shades of Popular Culture’ conference in Krakow (2017), at ‘Spectacular Now’ in Dortmund (2016), at the ‘Expanding Universes’ conference in Krakow (2016), and at the ‘Trauma, Evil and Anxiety Research Symposium’ in Hildesheim (2015). Her research interests include popular and fan culture, feminist theory, and video game narratology.
“Invisible Made Visible: Landscape as Psychological Insight in Comics – Jessica Gross (St. Louis College of Pharmacy)
How can the inner thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the mad be portrayed to others? Certainly, their external appearances are not reflective of their internal worlds, which remain hidden to outsiders. A number of comics about mental illness deal with this problem by using landscapes, cityscapes, and the weather to reflect the way a mad character experiences the world, and to reflect this character’s thoughts. Using landscapes and weather conditions to portray internal psychiatric states shows that the external world may be completely transformed by one’s experience of it. For example, the landscape in Paul Hornschemeier’s comic Mother, Come Home is completely transformed into what I call a “traumascape” due to the trauma of the main characters, David and Thomas. In this paper I also analyze the way that the external world is reflective of internal psychiatric states in Shaun Tan’s “The Red Tree” and in Darryl Cunningham’s Psychiatric Tales. My comparative study of these three comics argues that this use of landscapes and atmospheric conditions to reflect the psychiatric distress of the mad protagonists validates how real and powerful their perceptions and emotions are. When the reader can see how the external world itself is transformed, she can see how disruptive disordered mental states are to the sufferer, and how the mad character may be him or herself living in a very different world from the one inhabited by other characters in the comic.
Jessica Gross holds a PhD in Comparative Literature with a minor in Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin and is Assistant Professor of English at St. Louis College of Pharmacy in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Each semester she teaches a course on comics about mental illness to pre-pharmacy students. Other research interests include comics about war and violence and the novel. She does work in English, French, Spanish, and Tagalog, with a focus on French, Francophone, Filipino, and Singaporean literatures. Previous work on madness in popular culture include a 2017 panel at the Modern Language Association convention on comics and mental illness and a forthcoming 2018 chapter on a comic about mental illness in Literatures of Madness: Disability Studies and Mental Health in the Literary Disability Studies book series at Palgrave Macmillan. She is also currently at work on a forthcoming edited collection on comics about mental illness.
“Men’s Mental Health and Nihilistic Dread in Rick and Morty” – Hannah Granberry (University of Colorado)
In this presentation, I will explore how Rick and Morty deploy absurdist humor, satire, and contemporary understandings of existentialist thought in order to examine the modern interpretation of nihilistic dread in regard to men’s mental health through the characterization of Rick Sanchez. Rick’s substance abuse, depression, mental health, and toxic relationships are all borne out of his fear of insignificance and his unwanted dependence on other people. The presence of infinite universes validates his nihilistic outlook, leaving him alone to contemplate the emptiness of his own existence. Rather than ruminate on his depression or discuss his emotions, he represses his feelings and distracts himself with liquor, chaotic experiments, and life-risking adventures. In doing so, he appropriates existentialist philosophy to justify his sickness: if nothing matters, then his actions have no real consequence, and the emotional pain he is in is a meaningless weakness that impedes his work.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Rick and Morty’s reliance on existentialist philosophy for plot and character development, the show is a huge hit with millennial audiences. The Nielsen Holdings PLC reported that Rick and Morty was the number one television comedy amongst millennials, averaging 2.5 million viewers under the age of thirty-five in 2017 alone (Adalian). In particular, the show is a massive hit with male millennials, some of whom view Rick as “The ultimate alpha, a man who has achieved the goal of dominance over reality itself” (Kuchera). This admiration for Rick and his mangling of existentialism into an ‘I’m smart, nothing matters, manners, and emotions are for idiots’ personal philosophy is troubling, as it perpetuates toxic masculine ideas toward mental health and men’s emotions. In analyzing fan’s reception of Rick’s character arc, this presentation will investigate the ways in which popular culture excels and fails at representing mental illness.
Hannah Granberry is a second-year student in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Media and Public Engagement Master’s program. She has a Bachelors in English Literature from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her research interests include book to film adaptations, television studies, genre (particularly science fiction, horror, and fantasy), historicism, and popular culture. In the fall of 2018, she will begin a film Ph.D. program at the University of Edinburgh.
Panel 2: Mental Illness in World Cinema
“Depictions of mental illness among Holocaust survivors in Israeli films” – Liat Steir-Livny (Sapir Academic College/The Open University)
The immigration to Israel of approximately 450,000 Holocaust survivors in the aftermath of World War II has found ample expression in Israeli cinema throughout the years. Scholars of Israeli cinema maintain that the cinematic Zionist narrative of the 1940s and 1950s described the encounter between Holocaust survivors and Israelis in a stereotypical manner. Survivors were often portrayed as people broken in body and in spirit, who needed to be transformed from mentally ill “diasporic Jews” to healthy Hebrews, “New Jews.” These scholars further assert that over the years, especially since the late 1970s, the negative homogenous representation of Holocaust survivors as mentally sick dissipated and was replaced by a more complex image.
Contrary to these notions, In the talk I will argue that the problematic image of Holocaust survivors as mentally ill in Israeli fiction films has remained almost unchanged in the last decades. Instead of addressing the complexity of the Holocaust trauma and the varied facets of Holocaust survivors’ identities, Israeli fiction films from the late 1970s onward continue to replicate the same superficial imagery, portraying negative images of survivors, who are shown as collapsing under the burden of the past and losing their grip on reality. Moreover, Israeli fiction films from the late 1970s onward still use Holocaust survivors, only now for an inverted purpose: to criticize the erosion of the Zionist ethos. The absorption healing process is gone, and the image of Holocaust survivors as dysfunctional and mentally sick only deepens. These persistent negative stereotypes stand in direct contradiction to the historical research on the subject. Despite having to cope with deep emotional scars, Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel left a profound mark on economics, politics, medicine, settlement, and the military.
Liat Steir-Livny is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Culture at Sapir Academic College, Israel. Serves as a tutor and course coordinator in the MA program in Cultural Studies and in the Arts Department at the Open University, Israel. Her first book, Two Faces in the Mirror (Eshkolot-Magness, 2009), analyzes the representation of Holocaust survivors in Israeli cinema. Her second book, Let the Memorial Hill Remember (Resling, 2014), analyzes the changing memory of the Holocaust in contemporary Israeli culture. Her third book, Is It O.K to Laugh About It? (Vallentine Mitchell, 2017) analyses Holocaust Humor, Satire and Parody in Israeli Culture.
“Mental Illness in Greek Cinema, 1949-1980” – Despo Kritsotaki, Eliza-Anna Delveroudi, and Manolis Tzanakis (Universities of Athens and Crete)
How Greek films represent mental illness and what do they reveal about the attitudes towards the mentally ill and their carers, but also about Greek history and society? The present paper asks these questions focusing on a time of transformation for Greek society, psychiatry and cinema, starting with 1949, when the Greek Civil War ended, and moving to the late 1970s, when the Dictatorship (1967-1974) had fallen, the political, social and cultural climate was changing, the biological/asylum psychiatry was becoming challenged, and a new cinema, more independent and experimental, was succeeding the more commercial ‘Old Greek Cinema’.
The paper explores the Greek post-war films featuring characters with mental health problems. Building on two strands of research – on media and mental illness and on history through cinema – it analyses the ‘kinds’ of ‘madness’ and its treatment, and the representations of psychiatrists-neurologists and mental hospitals that prevail in Greek films. We argue that a complex and multifaceted portrayal of the ‘mad’ emerges, and investigate the reasons behind negative and positive depictions, including the ‘mad’ as caricatures and as unconventional personalities with a different perspective on reality. In addition, we underline that films illustrate the ambiguous place of psychiatry in post-war Greece – simultaneously the only ‘modern’ and scientific approach to mental illness, and the least legitimate medical profession.
Thus, the paper enriches our understanding of the place of the mentally ill and their carers in modern Greece, and the ways in which films reflected and moulded popular attitudes towards mental illness and psychiatry. Based on the premise that audiences interact with and co-author media messages, it contributes in an original way to our insights into the meanings and experiences of mental illness in Greece, while relating the discourses and practices around ‘madness’ with the major socio-political and cultural traits of post-war Greece
Dr Despo Kritsotaki is a historian of mental health. Her research interests focus on the history of psychiatry and mental health services and organisations in conjunction with the history of the family, childhood and sexuality. Since 2009 she has worked in various research projects. Among her publications are the book ‘Mental Hygiene’, Social Welfare and Psychiatric Reform in Post-War Greece. The Centre for Mental Health and Research, 1956-1978, Pedio, 2016 (in Greek) and the edited volume Deinstitutionalisation and After. Post-War Psychiatry in the Western World, Palgrave MacMillan, 2016 (with Vicky Long and Matthew Smith).
Professor Eliza-Anna Delveroudi is a historian of Greek cinema and theatre. She has published widely (in Greek, English and French) on film and theatre history, film press and criticism, silent cinema, stardom in Greek cinema and young people in Greek film comedy. For the last ten years, she has been working on a major project mapping the work of women filmmakers in Greece from the 1950s to the present. She is also working on a project entitled Child-on- Screen at the University of Athens.
Assistant Professor Manolis Tzanakis, Department of Sociology, University of Crete, Greece, is a sociologist of mental health. His research centres on the sociology of mental health and the body. He has published many articles and books, among which are the monograph Beyond of Asylum. Community Psychiatry and the Question of Subject, Athens, Synapseis, 2008 (in Greek) and the edited volume Body under Supervision. Ethical and Political Dimensions of Medical Technology and Care, Pedio, 2014 (with Giorgos Alexias and Aigli Xatzouli, in Greek).
“The Introduction of the Language of the Psychiatric Clinic in 1950s Anglophone Cinema” – Kevin Jones (University of Leeds
Clinical language used to describe mental health disorders is frequently used in cinema. Examples include the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, which focused on the mathematician John Nash’s schizophrenia, and the 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder, which attempts to depict a Vietnam veteran’s experience of PTSD. Audiences going to watch these films interpret what they see in these films through the clinical concepts that are used by practicing psychologists and psychiatrists.
However, this has not always been the case, and although madness has attracted the attention of film makers since the birth of the medium, the terms used to describe the suffering experienced by a character has not had such a strong connection to the language of the clinic as it does today. Whilst clinicians abandoned terms such as ‘madness’ during the earlier parts of the C19th, these terms were still used within cinema until relatively recently.
This paper will look at the use of clinical terminology into popular films in order to provide some answers for why this may be the case. In his seminal How to Read a Film (2003), James Monaco claims that as the moving image became more commonplace, audiences became more and more ‘cine-literate’. This paper will contend that as the terminology of the clinic became employed within cinema, audiences became more and more ‘psy’ literate, and scriptwriters could refer to clinical symbols like diagnostic terms and the names of certain forms of medication in the confidence that they would ‘land’ with their audiences.
The paper will demonstrate this by providing a brief overview of the relationship between clinical symbols and cinematic depictions of mental disorder, before arguing that it was during the fifties that a series of films were released which helped to close the gap between clinical and popular discourses. The presentation will provide an analysis of the iconography used in Bigger than Life, The Three Faces of Eve and Lizzie.
Kevin is a final year PhD student at the University of Leeds’ Centre for the History and Philosophy of Science. His research is centred around the history of conceptualisations of mental disorder, and looks at the ways in which discourses surrounding mental health and mental illness developed during the C20th. This includes looking at the relationships between political, legal, social and clinical discourses surrounding mental disorder. He is also
interested in the ways in which historical and philosophical investigations can be integrated, and is co-editing a book based upon proceedings delivered at a conference co-organised in 2017, and this is set to be published by Routledge later this year. Finally, he has a forthcoming paper on the development of discourses surrounding clinical psychology that is set to be published in the British Journal of Psychology’s History and Philosophy of Psychology section later this year.
Panel 3: Women and Madness
“Monsters at Home: Women and Madness in Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World” – Natalie Riley (Durham University)
The works of Siri Hustvedt are defined by their profoundly interdisciplinary explorations of mental life, none more so than The Blazing World (2014). Assembled from individual testimonies, interviews, and reviews, the narrative follows contemporary sculptor Harriet Burden’s attempt to prove that cultural anxieties surrounding gender and mental illness have defined, and ultimately damaged, the reception of her work. Fashioning a critical genealogy from events in pop culture, science, and art, Burden argues that western society continues to prefer reason over emotion, mind over body, and sanity over madness – prejudices she traces to Enlightenment understandings of subjectivity. While modern psychiatry increasingly grounds mental illness in neurobiological dysfunction, rather than the absence of reason, Burden suggests that neurodivergence in women continues to be culturally over-determined by long-held associations between reproductive biology, monstrosity, and mental deficiency.
In this paper, I bring The Blazing World’s phenomenal representation of Burden’s mental illness into focus, evaluating the consequences of the novel’s treatment of her neurosis, paranoia, and megalomania, for understanding her critique of the cultural links between women, monstrosity, and madness. As I argue, Burden’s narrative is de-centred by the anthology of epistolary voices that form the novel’s constitutive documents – a satirical device that not only invites Burden’s marginalisation within her own story, but also the undermining of her reliability as a narrator; put on trial by the other characters, Burden contends with attempts to undercut her protests by reference to her neurodivergence and gender. Demonstrating how the novel’s narrative structure intersects with its inquiry into the experience of mental illness, I conclude by considering how The Blazing World offers an interdisciplinary space in which to explore authoritative discourses that frame how neurodivergent women are/are not able to articulate themselves in the twenty-first century.
Nat Riley is a second-year doctoral researcher and tutor at Durham University. Funded by the Wellcome Trust Doctoral Studentship in Medical Humanities, her thesis focuses on the cognitive turn in the contemporary Anglophone novel. She is the organiser of the Centre for Medical Humanities PG and ECR Network.
“‘Mine is Not a Success Story’: Resisting the Recovery Narrative” – Maria Elena Torres-Quevedo (University of Edinburgh)
Foucault opens A History of Sexuality: Volume 1 (1976) with a discussion of the connection between confessional writings and repressive constructions of normality and deviance. He is speaking here specifically about sexual disclosures; however, similar arguments can be made about constructions of normality and deviance in other fields, including mental health. Indeed, life-writing is often complicit in such rhetoric; it makes implicit value judgments about what needs confessing, what needs overcoming, and from what position one can assume the authority to evaluate one’s life. The recovery narrative especially is part of the discursive mechanism that upholds and naturalizes prescriptive constructions about sickness and health. For women in particular, these discourses have a moral facet to them. Within the confessional genre, ill health, be it physical or mental, and more often than not the line between the two is nebulous at best, is connected to immoral behaviour or attitudes, and the recovery of the recovery narrative is not just a recovery of the mind or body, but a recovery of the soul.
Narratives of eating disorders are particularly loaded for women; these enact mental illness through the body, which becomes evidence of mental or moral weakness. As such, the female recovery narrative carries the weight of centuries of prejudice surrounding the female body and psyche, with deviance always already imbued into female illness.
My paper focuses on Roxane Gay’s Hunger (2017); it will read Hunger as a text that goes against the grain of the recovery memoir. Instead of tracking a teleological route to wellness, accepting a normative ill/healthy binary, and focusing on individual suffering or recovery, Hunger engages in protest about the social conditions that cause and define illness.
Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo is a PhD candidate in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. She previously studied at the University of Seville, and Cornell University. Maria’s current research explores contemporary American women’s narratives of identity construction, focusing on the relationship between genre conventions and identity, including chapters on Alison Bechdel, Danzy Senna, and Roxane Gay. In addition to her research, Maria is the co-founder of the Contemporary American TV Reading Group at Edinburgh University and the coeditor for FORUM: The Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts at Edinburgh. She also writes and edits for Project Myopia and Inciting Sparks, and has reviewed for the James Tait Black Prize.
“#welcometometoo: How popular media perpetuates and reinforces the oppression of women with a diagnosis of BPD” – Sue Phillips and Penny Stafford (Activists)
This presentation will look at how popular culture depicts women who have overcome extreme adversity in a negative light. We will explore how women are portrayed in both film and the popular press as Mad, Bad or Sad, and will critique the emerging themes of victim blaming, women and criminality and the medical model of mental health. In the films Monster and Welcome to Me both female protagonists have a diagnosis of BPD whilst in Fatal Attraction the female character is described as a “bunny boiler”.
In the popular press recently there has been an influx of “articles” about personality disorder. The Guardian published an article called “Personality Disorders at Work: How to spot them and what you can do” which trivialised and demonised people given this diagnosis. The Metro published a piece claiming the brains of people with BPD are physically different, alluding to alleged differences in the structure of their brains although so far, we have not heard of anyone being offered a brain scan to confirm their diagnosis.
There are stories in the press in abundance illustrating how even after completed suicide women with a BPD diagnosis are vilified as manipulative attention seekers.
We will illustrate using feminist critiques how cultural ideas about proper feminine behaviour have shaped the definition and treatment of female insanity, and how this relates to the diagnosis of BPD. Popular culture continues to misrepresent women who deviate from the feminine norm as mad, bad or sad and the industry which triggered the #metoo campaign fails to acknowledge the social and political context of women’s distress. Why are more people not asking why our pervasive experiences of sexual violence, harassment and inequality continue to be promoted as acceptable within 21st century popular culture?
Sue Phillips and Penny Stafford both describe themselves as survivor activists. They were both diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder by the psychiatric system as young women but many years later are now members of the survivor-led “PD in the Bin” group which campaigns for the abolition of “Personality Disorder” as a mental health diagnosis which they argue is invalid and iatrogenic. They met while completing the Mad People’s History and Identity Course at Queen Margaret’s University in 2014 and since then have been involved in mad studies and activism. Sue is also a member of the Much More than a Label collective advocacy project which amongst other things provides lived experience-led training about personality disorder to mental health professionals, service users and the public across the Lothian region.
Panel 4: Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy
“Demons of the Mind: the Interactions of ‘Psy’ Sciences and Cinema in the Long Sixties” – Tim Snelson and William R. Macauley (University of East Anglia)
Drawing upon research from the interdisciplinary AHRC-funded project Demons of the Mind, this paper will look at the complex contestations and cross-pollinations of the ‘psy’ sciences and cinema in the defining long-Sixties period (Marwick 2005), when the jurisdiction of psychology expanded into everyday political, public, and private lives in America and Britain. This was a time when psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts were in deep conflict over developments in the psychiatric use of antipsychotic and psychotropic drugs, personality and genetics, children’s emotional development, obedience and bystander apathy, psychology’s role in defining sexuality, gender, and women’s oppression, the popularisation of psychotherapy, and emergence of the anti-psychiatry movement. It was also a period in which cinema and other popular media became preoccupied with the ‘Demons of the Mind’ (Sykes 1972), with horror, science fiction, crime, and thriller films, in particular, becoming key ways in which the latest psychological ideas and concerns about mental health were disseminated and debated within the public sphere.
The paper will begin by offering an overview of the major cinematic trends in the representation of mental illness and treatment within the period, and the key forms of interaction we are exploring within the project- particularly the use of clinical expertise within processes of media production, censorship and reception. It will move on to offer a case study of a key film (Repulsion (1965), Twisted Nerve (1968), or Family Life (1971) that will allow us to demonstrate the complex interactions and contestations across these processes of production, mediation and reception. This paper will draw upon and combine the expertise of scholars from the history of science and medicine, and media and film studies.
Tim Snelson is Senior Lecturer in Media History at the University of East Anglia, and Primary Investigator for the Demons of the Mind project. His research addressing the relationship between media and social history has been published in journals including Media History, Cultural Studies and The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. He has monograph titled Phantom Ladies: Hollywood Horror and the Home Front (Rutgers, 2015) and was Co-Investigator on the You Can’t Move History project on youth and (sub)cultural heritage. He is also Director of the East Anglian Film Archive.
Ray Macauley is the Senior Research Associate for the Demons of the Mind project. He has an academic background and research experience in psychology and the history of science, technology, and medicine (HSTM). He worked on the Playing God project with David Kirby (co-investigator on the DoM project) exploring the interplay between science, religion, and entertainment media. His research incorporates methods and analytical frames drawn from a variety of academic disciplines and fields of study and has been published in journals including Grey Room, History of Technology and Journal of Sonic Studies.
“Visiting Freud: The Myth of Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Culture” – Maren Scheurer (Goethe University Frankfurt)
In a striking number of plays and novels, Sigmund Freud, residing in Berggasse 19, Vienna, or living out his last days in 20 Maresfield Gardens, London, is visited by a powerful antagonist who engages him in discussion. In Salley Vickers’ Where Three Roads Meet (2007), it is Tiresias, the blind seer from Greek myth, who visits Freud to talk about Oedipus, illness, and death. Terry Johnson’s play Hysteria (1993) takes Salvador Dalí’s visit to Freud as a starting point to a surreal series of events in which Freud has to defend his life’s work and his treatment of hysteria to the intruder Jessica. Eric Emmanuel Schmitt’s Le Visiteur (1993) introduces a strange visitor to Freud’s Viennese home, who claims to be God and engages atheist Freud in a conversation about theology. In a similar manner, Mark St. Germain’s Freud’s Last Session (2009) stages a political and theological debate between Freud and C. S. Lewis.
Freud has long been an iconic figure: an abundance of Freud merchandise—Freud refrigerator magnets, Freud action figures, or Freud mouse pads—is a reminder of his continuing auratic resonance in popular culture. These novels and plays, however, invite us to revisit real and imagined moments in the early history of psychoanalysis in order to analyze why Freud himself has become a cultural phenomenon and a quasi-mythical figure in his own right. Freud’s visitors seek to discuss the founding myths of psychoanalysis, the existence of God, the state of the world, or the inevitability of illness and death, suggesting that our fascination with Freud reaches beyond his new take on mental illness to his controversial cultural theories and his biography, which reflect some of the most radical upheavals of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century as well as much of contemporary culture.
Maren Scheurer works as a postdoctoral research associate and lecturer at the Departments of Comparative Literature and English and American Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. She has an M.A. in Comparative Literature, English Studies, and Psychoanalysis. Her PhD research focused on the interrelation between the theory and the aesthetics of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and contemporary literature, theater, and television, and she has published on the representation of therapeutic relationships in these and other media in various edited collections and academic journals.
“Penguins on the Couch: Penguin’s mass-market publishing on psychoanalysis and psychotherapy” – Gavin Miller (University of Glasgow)
The British publisher Penguin maintained for many decades a successful mass-market list of psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic titles, including works by or about Freudianism and other psychoanalytic approaches, as well as texts introducing non-psychoanalytic therapies. Penguin’s list contains many texts by or about Freud, and also introductions to non-Freudian theory (e.g. Jung, Adler, Reich, and Klein), and to non-analytic therapies, such as gestalt theory, encounter groups, and transactional analysis. Alongside “star” names such as Freud, Adler, and Lacan, the list represents British figures such as Storr, Rycroft, and Winnicott, and extends to critiques by Rieff and Eysenck. Few post-war British consumers had first-hand experience of analysis or therapy. Such popular introductions were therefore a primary source for authorized discursive knowledge about psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. They were also distinct from the fictional narrative representations circulating in popular entertainment. This paper discusses preliminary results from a BA-funded project that uses Penguin Archive editorial files to investigate the meaning of Penguin’s psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic list for authors, publishers, and consumers. These early results will be briefly considered in light of some broader hypotheses about the circulation and authorization of psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic ideas in post-war British cultural life.
Gavin Miller is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Medical Humanities in the School of Critical Studies, and Director, Medical Humanities Research Centre at the University of Glasgow. His medical humanities research focuses on science fiction, history of the psy disciplines, cultural psychiatry, and book and media history. He is currently completing two monographs: Science Fiction and Psychology for Liverpool University Press, and Miracles of Healing: Psychotherapy and Religion in Twentieth-Century Scotland for Edinburgh University Press.
Friday, 4th May
Keynote Address: Dr Bernice Murphy (Trinity College Dublin)
“‘Cities of the Insane’: The Asylum as Ruin in American Horror Narratives”
In recent years, the depiction of the ‘insane asylum’ as a dilapidated ruin that is both metaphorically and literally haunted by the ghosts of the past is one that has become an ever more frequent trope in recent American horror narratives. In this paper I will outline the factors which gave rise to the development of these so-called “Cities of the Insane” – some of which housed many thousands of patients and staff members, and which essentially functioned as entirely self-sufficient communities in and of themselves – and the changes in both public policy and in the treatment and perception of mental health disorders which meant that almost all of these institutions had been closed down by the mid-1980s. With reference to films and TV shows such as the supernatural horror film Session 9 (2009), the documentary Cropsey,and the television series American Horror Story: Asylum (FX 2012-13) I will argue that the ruined asylum functions in these narratives as an archetypal “Landscape of Fear” (to use human geographer Yi-Fu Tuan’s resonant phrase) dramatising profound unease about both the controversial legacy of these institutions and the treatment of those considered to be mentally ill in American society more generally. I will also be briefly discussing the work of photographer Christopher Payne, whose book Asylum (2009) serves as an eerily compelling testament to the remarkable power of these places and our continuing fascination with the people who once inhabited them.
Bernice M. Murphy is lecturer in Popular Literature in the School of English, Trinity College, Dublin, and director of the M.Phil in Popular Literature. She has published extensively on topics related to popular literature and horror in film and fiction. Her books include The Suburban Gothic in American Popular Culture (2009), The Rural Gothic: Backwoods Horror and Terror in the Wilderness (2013), The Highway Horror Film (2014) and Key Concepts in Contemporary Popular Fiction (2017).
Panel 5: Mental Illness in Horror and the Gothic
“Transgender psycho: a myth that endures?” – Gina Maya Roberts (University of Edinburgh)
Since the 20th century, the lines between mental illness and representations of transgender identity have been blurred in both pop culture and medicine. In cinema, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho portrays trans-gender as Freudian madness, initiating a tradition in fiction where murderous men inhabit female alter-egos to visualize for the audience their mental instability.
Yet how distant from these Gothic images are medicine and academia? In 1973 sociologist Thomas Kando refers to trans women as reactionary models of femininity, ‘the Uncle Toms of the sexual Revolution.’ In 1979, Janice Raymond draws partly on Kando to claim in her own research that the transsexual female has overtones of science from Nazi death camps, that the transsexual female rapes women’s bodies by infiltrating female identity, and should therefore be mandated out of existence. These works become the basis for understanding trans identities in academia and policy-making into the 21 st century. Where does Hitchcock’s psycho end, and the science begin?
The complicity of the trans individual on this medical battlefield between fact and counter-fact is also to be noted. Biographies of barely believable science and lifestyle, by the first male-to- female transsexuals, open with statements of support by medical practitioners. The validity of medical approval arguably forms the very trans identity it claims to be treating. How neutral and omniscient are the doctors in hindsight? Is trans really an illness, a dysphoria, requiring hormones and surgery?
Are the medical gate-keepers necessary? In 2018, these are the questions that spark discussion within and beyond trans communities, to the fields of medicine and law, with research seized on by different sides to serve different narratives. Does fear continue to drive these narratives on both sides? Are transgender identities the fullest expression of how everything we know about ourselves is a mixture of science fact and science fiction?
Gina Maya is a writer and research student of Transgender narratives at Edinburgh University. Currently halfway through her PhD, her focus includes Lacanian psychoanalysis and the ways transgender identities both subvert and accommodate Western patriarchal society, particularly in literature and on screen in the twenty-first century. As well as her PhD, Gina is an event organizer for the University’s Staff Pride Network, and is currently serving as its Transgender Representative. Prior to her studies, Gina enjoyed a 15-year career as an EFL teacher and academic manager in several countries, most recently for the British Council in Saudi Arabia. In her free time, Gina keeps a weekly blog on her website www.ginamaya.co.uk, where she writes about cinema as well as her experience of transitioning in Edinburgh.
“Women on the Verge: Fragile Subjectivities and the Haunted Heroine of Horror” – Nina Martin (Connecticut College)
Horror films have always danced with madness, from mad scientists and doctors, to mad monsters and “psychos,” and these designations are intentionally gendered. While much critical work circulates around the figure of the “Final Girl,” Carol Clover’s coined term for the stalwart female survivor who triumphs over the monster at film’s end, I contend that an equally ubiquitous female horror figure, the “Haunted Heroine,” remains critically underexplored. Unlike the action oriented Final Girl, who wields a weapon when vanquishing her attacker, the Haunted Heroine is more psychologically-driven and vulnerable, plagued by a trauma from her past that follows her from place to place. She shares characteristics with the female gothic heroine, especially in terms of the film’s focus on female subjectivity, and the troubled and disorienting relationships she has to cinematic space. These horror films explore the haunted interiors of both house and heroine. Viewers are plunged into the inner worlds of these women, yet their distinctive subjective views are rendered unstable and unreliable. The chief narrative question that drives the Haunted Heroine of horror is whether she is actually encountering the supernatural, or whether she is losing her mind.
“Women on the Verge” examines three contemporary horror films—Visions (Kevin Greutert, 2015), The Disappointments Room (D.J. Caruso, 2016), and The Sound (2017)—as a way to characterize and trace the trajectory of this repeated female figure of both classic and contemporary horror, while delving into the ways that representations of madness intersect with gender. While these female protagonists provide a crucial point of identification for spectators, formal and narrational elements work in tandem to strip these women of narrative authority. Constantly doubted and seen as untrustworthy by characters within the film’s diegesis, the Haunted Heroine’s struggle for autonomy connects to larger cultural anxieties surrounding women and their stories.
Nina K. Martin is Associate Professor and Chair of Film Studies at Connecticut College. She has published articles in Atlantis, The Journal of Film and Video, Jump Cut, and Quarterly Review of Film and Video, as well as in anthologies on pornography, star bodies, and virginity in cinema. Her book Sexy Thrills: Undressing the Erotic Thriller is available from The U. of Illinois Press, and her current book projects explore the “Haunted Heroine” of horror cinema, a study of the interrelationship of fear, femininity, and cinematic space, and a book on contemporary women-directed horror cinema.
“Lunar Park and the Bifurcated Self” – Abby Bentham (University of Salford)
Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park (2005) represents an interesting departure from his usual material. Although it shares the violence and epistemic instability of earlier novels such as American Psycho, this pseudo-memoir is above all a ghost story which treads the familiar gothic themes of inheritance, patrilineality, binaries, boundaries, hubris and excess. Ellis himself has described the book as an homage to Stephen King and the influence of King and other literary, filmic and televisual lynchpins of the horror genre can indeed be felt. However, perhaps the most interesting thing about Lunar Park is Ellis’s postmodern poetics, which raise interesting questions about authorship, selfhood and identity.
Lunar Park can be classed as ‘autofiction,’ in that its writer, narrator and protagonist ostensibly share the same identity. The device allows Ellis to blur the distinction between fiction and reality in his novel, in a way that mirrors (and challenges) public opinion of him as an author in the ‘real’ world. When the drug-addled and alcoholic fictional Bret finds himself plagued by what seems to be physical manifestations of his literary creations, we sense that his grip on reality – and on himself – is loosening. Forced to confront unpalatable truths about his past, present and future, Bret’s ‘self’ becomes increasingly fractured. His world rapidly unravelling, he loses control even of his own narrative; although he remains the novel’s focalising character, he separates from ‘the writer’ who himself vacillates between being an active creator of narrative exigencies and a mere observer of events. The bifurcated self, or split personality, has long held a peculiar allure for writers and readers alike; my paper will explore the impact this trope has on Lunar Park, considering its narrative complexities and hopefully shining light on the strategic function of psychic splitting in the novel.
Dr Abby Bentham teaches at the University of Salford, where she delivers modules on narrative fiction, evil and critical theory. Her research interests include empathy, psychopathy, transgression, and masculinity. She has published on subjects as diverse as Dickens and Dexter, and her monograph on identification in psychopath fiction is due to be published next year.
Panel 6: The Mad Artist
“Culture Vulture: Dr. Lecter’s Ties and other Aesthetic Modes of Consumption in Hannibal (NBC — 2013-2015)” – Caroline Blinder (Goldsmiths University, London)
The connection between consumption, both bodily, aesthetically, culturally and philosophically is nowhere more apparent than in the excessive use of costuming, food and decor in the T.V. series Hannibal. Ostensibly part police procedural part horror, haute cuisine, clothes and cannibalism are conjoined in this investigation into what appears to be the mind of a mad serial killer. Nonetheless, something more interesting is at play in the mise-en- scene of Hannibal, in which still life aesthetics – both architecturally, gastronomically, and through dress – are employed to render a very pictorial perspective on how popular culture digests and enjoys the idea of madness. This paper will look closer at some of these links in order to argue that the success of the series as a cross-over genre in popular terms relies as much on the actual look of the show, as it does on the melodrama of the narrative arc. By looking closer at some of the American Gothic interiors of series 1 and the Renaissance and religious iconography of series 2 and 3, this paper will argue that Hannibal’s performance owes as much to Edgar Allan Poe’s articulate madmen and to Patricia Highsmith’s zealous Ripley, as it does to an idea of the hyper-masculine killer. Just as the FBI agent Will Graham appears to be poised between the science of the forensic laboratory and a more pastoral life of intuitive reasoning, Hannibal’s delight in Renaissance art, wine and silk ties are telling indicators of how our favourite psychopaths always seems to emblematise the collapse between good taste and the morbid.
Dr Caroline Blinder is Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Culture at Goldsmiths University, London. Her first book was A Self-made Surrealist – Ideology and Aesthetics in the work of Henry Miller, 2000. She has also written New Critical Essays on James Agee and Walker Evans: Perspectives on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 2010, and more recently ‘‘From Smokescreens to Smokestacks: True Detective and The American Sublime’, in Popular Modernism and it Legacies, 2017, ‘Ruses and Ruminations: The Architecture of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’ in The Centenary Edition of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 2017, and‘Fragments of the Future: Walker Evans’s Polaroids – in Mixed Messages: American correspondences in visual and verbal practices, 2017. Her forthcoming monograph The American Photo-text: 1930-1960, a critical survey of the intersections between writing and photography in American culture will be out with EUP 2019.
“‘Devon Gothic’: A filmic study of the politically resistant potential of the ‘mad’ artist” – Alice Evans (Chelsea College of Art)
Artists with a mental health diagnosis are frequently dismissed as political agents or regarded as un-serious, naïve, unskilled or untrained in their work. A presentation of my recent film Devon Gothic will identify ways in which this assumption can be re-addressed. Alongside screening a selection of excerpts of this film, I will suggest how identifying specifically as a ‘mad’ artist can become a politically and socially valid status from which a critical stance can be applied to reflect on larger cultural hegemonies.
Formally trained as a visual artist at the RCA, yet concurrently diagnosed with the mental health condition Schizoaffective Disorder lends me a unique position from which to negotiate the political significance of this liminal subjectivity. The 20 minute short film Devon Gothic was produced in response to Michel Foucault’s enigmatic reflections on the role of the artist in Madness & Civilization in combination with analysis of Bertolt Brecht’s critically resistant theatrical strategies.
Devon Gothic uses visual techniques reflective of the clinical process of depersonalization. I will draw a commonality between these representations and Bertolt Brecht’s technique of Verfremdungseffeckt. By taking Foucault’s emphasis that the treatment of those considered mad is intimately bound up with political and social expedience, discussion surrounding Devon Gothic will suggest that a work of art is a mirror turned back on society so that society is forced to confront their own culpability towards the madness of the ‘other’.
Link to Devon Gothic: https://vimeo.com/228694376 password = frankenstein
Alice Evans is a PhD candidate at Chelsea College of Art specializing in film and photography. She has exhibited her film work internationally. Her specific interests include Bertolt Brecht’s relationship to staged or constructed photography alongside an interest in the critical positioning of artistic endeavour within Foucault’s Madness & Civilization. Outside academic and artistic practice, she works as a mental health campaigner. She lives with a mental health diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.
“Out is the New In: Narratives of Art Practice and Mental Wellbeing” – Olivia Sagan (Queen Margaret University)
The term Outsider art, coined in 1972 by the critic Roger Cardinal has become an umbrella term for a variety of work produced not only by artists with experiences of mental (ill) health but those with disabilities and others deemed to be on the margins of art and society: the homeless, ethnic minorities, migrants, folk artists, the self-taught. Outsider art is also in hot demand in the international art market and has arguably entered the mainstream. Exhibitions said to be dedicated to the work of the marginalised draw large crowds and work can command large sums.
As Sarah Boxer of The Atlantic observed, “outsider does have a nice little paradox embedded in it: for an artist to be considered an outsider, he or she must first be brought inside the professional art world by an insider.” So what does this mean for people with lived experience of mental illness who also make art? What are the implications for their narratives of resistance, if their images, ideas, protests and depictions are thus sequestered within a harm(less) genre?
This short presentation revisits the 1st person narratives of a group of more than fifty art makers with long histories of mental illness, who gave and took their stories as part of an Arts Council project called ‘Thou Art’. A film, created by the participants has been steadily making its way round mental health groups, arts workshops and academic sessions and onto numerous blogs and websites. A book, Narratives of Arts Practice and Mental Wellbeing: Reparation and connection was published in 2015 to bring together the main themes and explore the narratives of these art makers more deeply. One theme that emerged was an ambivalence about, or outright rejection of, the discourse of Outsider Art.
Olivia Sagan is Head of Psychology and Sociology at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. She has been involved in phenomenological explorations of mental (ill) health for many years and has written extensively on the experience.
Panel 7: Psychiatry in Contemporary Pop Culture
“The schizophrenic century: schizophrenia from modernism to mass culture” – James Whitehead (Liverpool John Moores University)
Of all the concepts that passed from psychiatry—and perhaps medicine generally—into circulation in popular culture in the twentieth century, surely none had such an impact as ‘schizophrenia’. Within a few years it was seized upon, indeed, as the condition representative of twentieth-century modernity, imagined as the ‘age of schizophrenia’ or the ‘schizophrenic century’. It is clear that literary cultural figures, especially in modernist and avant-garde movements, played a primary role in these expropriations. For example, the first quotation given in the OED for the transferred or figurative use of schizophrenia is a line from T. S. Eliot’s The Use of Poetry and the Use of Poetry (1933). That Eliot should reach for a psychiatric term little more than twenty years in the making, amid some of his most important theoretical statements on poetry, culture, and the modern ‘dissociation of sensibility’, may now not seem surprising to contemporary readers. But this is because the broad uptake of ‘schizophrenia’ as a word used to characterize multiple apparent divisions and splittings-apart, has been so pervasive and transformative. While many people are aware that use of the word in popular culture diverges drastically from its psychiatric use, no one has yet attempted to write the cultural history of this divergence (pace Angela Woods’ work on the fortunes of schizophrenia in critical and cultural theory.) This paper will give an overview of my research for a monograph on this topic, a monograph that will go beyond earlier accounts (i.e. Louis Sass’s Madness and Modernism, 1992) which remain attached principally to modernist avant-gardes. It will examine the popularization of modernist ideas about primitive and creative schizophrenia and the schizophrenic mind through two examples in particular: what Marina McKay and Lyndsey Stonebridge have termed ‘British fiction after modernism’, and counterculture American novels of the 1960s
James Whitehead is a Lecturer in English at Liverpool John Moores University, in the Research Centre for Literature and Cultural History. Before that he was a Wellcome Research Fellow at the Centre for the Humanities and Health at King’s College London, on the ‘Boundaries of Illness’ project. He is currently working on the cultural history of schizophrenia for a monograph in Liverpool University Press’s ‘Representations’ series, as above. He has recently published a monograph in the history of the ‘mad genius’ idea, especially as it was connected to poets and poetry in the nineteenth century and beyond (Madness and the Romantic Poet, OUP, 2017). His other interests in this area include mental illness narratives and their generic history.
“‘If you keep this up, young lady, I am going to slap you’: punishment, terror and psychiatric Violence in young adult novels about anorexia nervosa, 1978-2009” – Emma Seaber (King’s College, London)
Since the late twentieth century, as the recorded incidence of anorexia nervosa has increased, attention has turned towards television, film and other media to apportion blame. As a result, from the 1970s onwards there has been a concurrent drive to reverse this perceived media influence, and an influx of health messages about eating disorders; young adult novels in particular have covered the subject, aiming to educate readers about eating disorders. This paper will discuss three such novels, The Best Little Girl in the World (1978); Second Star to the Right (1981) and Wintergirls (2009).
Rather than promote health, I argue that the texts’ execution of these aims is actually harmful. The novels depict a frightening and threatening picture of anorexia in which the reader, like the patient, is exposed to graphic and violent images of psychiatric treatment. I analyse some of the ways the novels defer to dominant (fear-based, coercive, violent) treatment practices, focussing on the culture of fear which operates within treatment settings; the oppressive focus of surveillance and behavioural modification practises; the barbarism of the hospital-prison institution; and the profound medical violence sanctioned by enduring ideologies of care, particularly as regards forced treatment and forced feeding. I suggest these literary texts regurgitate the threat of violence inherent within anorexia treatment ideologies, thereby reinforcing certain stigmatising and harmful beliefs about eating disorders.
Although young adult literature can be used to radical ends, I suggest that on the subject of anorexia such narratives are too entangled with prevailing psychiatric norms. Thus, these novels seem to have no choice but to reaffirm the presence of violence within medical discourses about anorexia nervosa. Ultimately I argue that this uncritical echoing of enduring psychiatric ideology not only illustrates but also contributes to the high level of stigma experienced by anorexia patients.
Emma Seaber is a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at King’s College, London, and a recipient of a Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Doctoral Studentship. Her thesis explores the special status of reading and writing practices in anorexia nervosa through memoir, diary accounts, and other life-writing modes to try to delineate the relationship between literacy behaviours and illness experiences. Her first peer-reviewed article was recently published in Literature and Medicine (Fall 2016). Her other research interests include prisons in popular culture, women’s health discourse, women’s imprisonment, healthcare access in prison, and criminal justice reform, and her writing on these topics was shortlisted for the John Sunley essay prize 2016 (Howard League for Penal Reform).
“Psychedelic Psychiatry: Popular Coverage of the Spring Grove Experiment” – Wendy Kline (Purdue University)
In 1965, Peg McGinnis, a Baltimore housewife in her forties institutionalized after a “severe mental breakdown,” swallowed 300 mcg of LSD as part of her therapeutic treatment at Spring Grove State Hospital in Maryland. Psychiatrist Sanford Unger presided over her trip, which took place in “Cottage 13,” a homelike setting on the grounds of the institution. McGinnis began her 14-hour session sitting on a couch, with Unger’s arm wrapped around her in a paternal, comforting manner. What happened to her, she described later, was nothing less than a complete spiritual transformation. Shortly after the single LSD session, McGinnis was released, never to experience another breakdown.
Peg McGinnis was one of a few thousand mental patients treated with LSD in the 2500-bed, fully accredited psychiatric hospital in the suburbs of Baltimore in the 1960s and ‘70s. Her story was unique, however, in that it was broadcast by CBS News in a primetime documentary, “The Spring Grove Experiment,” in 1965, generating widespread curiosity about the use of psychedelics to treat the mentally ill. Visitors began flocking to Spring Grove, fascinated by the possibility of curing everything from alcoholism to neurosis with one single dose of LSD. In this paper, I draw on the unpublished records of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Institute (at Spring Grove State Hospital) in order to track the impact of psychedelics on popular perceptions of psychiatry. Well before LSD became a symbol of the destructive nature of the counterculture, it was a psychiatric tool with enormous potential for the treatment of the mentally ill.
Yet the history of psychedelic treatment within the broader history of psychiatry has received scant attention. With some exceptions, its history has been relegated to the margins, a last gasp effort at a miracle cure by eccentric hippies, rather than a legitimate form of treatment. Given the recent attention to the potential of psychedelic drugs (specifically, MDMA and psilocybin) to treat PTSD, it is clearly time to revisit the impact of the role of LSD in the transformation of psychiatry.
Wendy Kline is professor and Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine in the Department of History at Purdue University. She is also the creator and director of the Medical Humanities program at Purdue. She is the author of several articles and three books (one forthcoming) that focus on controversies surrounding women’s reproductive and mental health. She received her Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Davis, in 1998. Her first book, Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom (University of California Press, 2001), emphasizes the American eugenic movement’s interaction with popular notions of gender and morality during the first half of the twentieth century. Her second book, Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave (University of Chicago Press, 2010) reveals the ways in which women challenged, expanded, and reinvented constructions of the female body and particular reproductive health in the late twentieth century. Her current book forthcoming with Oxford University Press, is entitled Coming Home: Medicine, Midwives, and the Transformation of Birth in Late-Twentieth- Century America. She is now working on a project on psychedelic psychiatry, drawing on the records of the Psychoactive Substance Research Collection at Purdue University as well as the R.D. Laing papers at the University of Glasgow.
Performance: “From the Bird of Paradise to The Ward Round” – Garth Williams
At 16 years old I took Acid for the first time and saw a luminous UFO like neon angel creature hovering over me that I talked to for several hours. It showed me what I understood to be the meaning of life. At 17 I was hospitalised in an adult intensive Psychiatric Ward during an LSD induced psychosis. I was hallucinating wildly with delusions of winning Wimbledon barefoot in a kilt & becoming the 5th member of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I had truly lost my way back down from the proverbial mountaintop. Who was I now? Was I playing a role? I was already an aspiring young actor. Was I hiding behind a mask? Was I ‘Method Acting’?? – for want of a better character…
R.D. Laing’s work was crucial in my recovery, teaching me a vocabulary with which to understand my experience. Was The Bird of Paradise R.D.Laing describes in his radical text, the same as the UFO like neon angel I saw? I have now gained permission fromGlasgow’s MHRC, Penguin Publishers and the R.D.Laing estate to study at the R.D.Laing archive held in the special collections department of Glasgow University, and administrated by the Medical Humanities Research Centre there, with the help of Dr. Gavin Miller, archivist and Laing Scholar Dr Adrian Chapman, and Laing early career biographer and Psychiatrist Dr Allan Beveridge. This will enable a deeper study into Laing’s work, which I aim to bring into theatres.
If the jewel in R.D. Laing’s work was “to make madness and the process of going mad comprehensible”, revealing how invariably psychosis was a case of people escaping from untenable situations into an imagined inner world – What if my inner imagined reality in response to being placed in a Psychiatric Ward was to invent the play you are now watching? Is this play itself the product of a madness? Is it a folly? Can you the audience help me to escape? The Ward, Laing’s “straightjacket of conformity”, the play itself?
“Are you the audience I imagined? … Am I in character now? .. Are you?”
Take part in a Faustian trip through the Psychiatric Underworld – via my own personal diaries, epiphanies, dreams, poems written about and for me, clinical medical notes, and police records, integrating interviews with family, friends, a psychiatrist and my therapist.
This is the true story of how I ended up being the sword wielding maniac as reported on the evening news – with riot police, armed response units, dog units, and a helicopter escort in an armour plated hummer taking me straight to a psychiatric ward, without passing Go – all this for one unarmed man. What happened to lead me to this strange turn of events? And how did I then plan my escape from the wards?
The audience are invited to participate and engage directly in The Ward Round, where they will join in with dissecting and understanding ‘madness’ – mine, their own, and others, and the actual process of going mad. A whodunnit mystery on the process of psychosis. Part how to guide on surviving in psychiatric treatment, part dramatic reconstruction, part group therapy; The Ward Round is a participatory and immersive theatrical experience. What will the audience decide? What would you need to know to do if you were sectioned?
“My first Psychiatrist was called Dr. Hyde, another patient told me there was a patient called Mr Jekyll on the next ward, and I believed him. This made ward rounds a little uneasy.”
My expertise by experience anchors this project. I have been recovered, medication & psychiatrist free for over 12 years.
Garth is a Drama School trained actor (B.A.Hons 1st, certified by University of Manchester) with 15 years professional and touring experience. He produced, co-wrote, devised & performed in multimedia plays “G.I.Ronimo”, “The Sham-Man” & “Ikiru”.
Panel 8: Mental Illness in Literature
“‘This place is run by charlatans’: Recent Findings in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Collection at the Princeton University Firestone Archive” – Lauren Moffat (Queens University Belfast)
The name F. Scott Fitzgerald is perennially associated with mental illness due to his wife, and
fellow author, Zelda Fitzgerald’s schizophrenic diagnosis. Indeed, this bias persists in both popular culture and literary criticism to such an extent that it undermines attempts to dispassionately evaluate psychiatric themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work. Following a recent trip to Princeton University and the Firestone Archive – which holds the papers of both Scott and Zelda – I uncovered within a correspondence folder in Scott Fitzgerald’s papers a number of members of the reading public seeking the author’s advice on mental health matters. These letters begin after the publication of Tender is the Night – Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘psychological novel’ – in 1934 and with greater frequency following the appearance of his controversial confessional piece, ‘The Crack-Up’, in Esquire Magazine in 1936. Across the selection, one can identify a number of observable common features, almost conventions, as well as the views and idiosyncrasies of the writers; one multiple correspondent, for instance, refers to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Michigan (part of the Seven-day adventist church) as being ‘run by charlatans.’ Moreover, the archive collection contains a number of the author’s responses to the letters which he received. Apart from challenging the extensive biographical criticism which present the author’s “negative” views on mental health (long contained to a problematic notion of the author’s ill-intent towards his wife’s artistic agency) almost rote, these letters give a valuable, historical perspective on mental health issues and the ‘crisis of committal’ in America between the world wars. They also provide a new resource for research seeking to circumnavigate psychoanalytic readings of Fitzgerald’s work in order to evaluate his contribution to fictional psychiatric narratives. Above all perhaps, these letters have interesting things to say regarding where we turn for help regarding our mental health concerns whether that is a psychiatrist or our favourite author.
Lauren Moffat is a PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast in the School of Arts, English and Languages. She is interested in the ways in which dynamic psychiatry and psychotherapeutics influenced modernist fiction, particular with regard to the novels of the American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her wider interests include the interaction between literature and the social sciences, constructed notions of national mythopoeic identity and women’s writing in the early twentieth century. She completed her undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Glasgow across the fields of literature and history, completing dissertations on the work of the Scottish modernist poet Edwin Muir and critical applications for Max Weber’s theory of disenchantment in modern American prose. Her work on Edwin Muir has been published in the postgraduate journal eSharp.
“Blackness, Invisibility, Madness: Psychiatry and Ralph Ellison” – Ian Magor (Birkbeck, University of London)
The unnamed, invisible protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man ends his story in an underground hole, lit by 1,369 lights, making plans to listen to five recordings of Louis Armstrong playing and singing ‘What Did I Do to Be so Black and Blue’ all at the same time, while eating a dessert of vanilla ice cream and sloe gin. The black narrator has been driven underground after finding it impossible to make himself seen and heard in the white ominated world overhead. He has turned to education, capitalist enterprise, and politics in an effort to be seen. He has also undergone shock therapy as part of an enforced attempt at psychiatric rehabilitation. My paper will explore the interactions between psychiatry, institutional racism, and the emerging Civil Rights movement in the United States in the wake of World War II. Ellison’s novel is an evocative, dizzying journey through the American South and into the streets of Harlem, capturing the difficulties for a black person to be seen as anything other than what the white man has deemed him or her to be. This “double consciousness”, spoken of by W.E.B. DuBois, means that the black subject is always operating on the margins of an identity breakdown.
The paper will concentrate on the key psychiatric scenes in the novel and link them to contemporaneous theoretical work in social science and psychoanalysis, primarily Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma and Kardiner and Ovesey’s The Mark of Oppression. I will also probe the consonance between the racist obliteration of identity in the novel and methodologies to break down the subject in new practices of “brainwashing”.
Ian Magor is a Wellcome Trust PhD researcher at Birkbeck, University of London, working under the supervision of Professor Daniel Pick. His thesis explores the roots of American ideas of brainwashing in film and psychiatry from the Second World War, with a particular attention on its racial connotations. Prior to his PhD he completed an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies. Ian has made many short film essays and they have been screened at a number of film related conferences across Europe. He has also been featured in the peer-reviewed journal InTransition.
“‘We are all a little mad in one or other particular’. The presentation of madness in the novels of Muriel Spark.” – Allan Beveridge (University of Edinburgh)
‘We are all a little mad in one or other particular’, observes the Baron in Muriel Spark’s first novel, The Comforters (Spark, 1957: 162). Madness is a major theme in Spark’s work. In her novels and short stories, there is a large cast of mad characters as well as a succession of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts. She recurrently examines the nature and origins of mental illness. It is clear that Spark was fascinated by the subject.
In Spark’s work we see a wide variety of portrayals of mental disturbance. Her aim was, of course, primarily literary; she was not trying to write a textbook of psychiatry. Certainly there are depictions of recognizable psychiatric symptoms, for example, amnesia, auditory hallucinations and all manner of delusions. There are portrayals of Asperger’s syndrome, schizophrenia, mania, suicide, dementia and epilepsy. But Spark also presents many more models of madness than the purely clinical. Thus we see mental disturbance conceived in terms of the supernatural, the religious and the Gothic. She also depicted insanity as a form of personality defect, eccentricity or mental enfeeblement. She drew on Romantic notions of the madman as a seer and speaker of truth. Spark used madness for a variety of literary reasons: for comedy, to disorientate the reader, as a manifestation of a character’s existential crisis and to explore the relation of reality to fiction.
Spark suggests several explanations as to the origins of madness. Fundamentally, she sees it as a spiritual problem and her afflicted characters are as likely to consult priests as psychiatrists, though, sometimes they consult both. Spark sees many similarities between the two professions. Her portrayal of psychiatrists encompasses both the pill-prescribers and the psychoanalysts. Spark is sceptical of both: medication can erase positive qualities in an individual and analysts can spout meaningless gibberish. This paper will examine how Muriel Spark conceived of madness: how she depicted it, how she accounted for it, and to what literary uses she put it.
Dr Allan Beveridge was formerly a Consultant Psychiatrist at the Queen Margaret Hospital in
Dunfermline until his retirement in 2017. He lectures at the Department of Psychiatry of Edinburgh University on the history of psychiatry. He is an assistant editor of the British Journal of Psychiatry, where he edits the “Psychiatry in Pictures” series and is one of the Book Review Editors. He is an assistant editor of History of Psychiatry. He is also the History and Humanities Editor of the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. He has over 70 publications, including 9 book chapters, on such subjects as the history of psychiatry, ethics, and the relation of the arts to mental illness. He has written about Robert Burns, Robert Fergusson, James Boswell, Samuel Johnson Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Edvard Munch, Gerard de Nerval, Iain Crichton Smith, Charles Altamont Doyle and Muriel Spark. In 2006 he was awarded a Wellcome clinical leave research grant to study the early writings and private papers of R.D. Laing, which are held at the Special Collections Department of Glasgow University. A book based on this research, entitled Portrait of the Psychiatrist as a Young Man. The early writings and work of R.D. Laing was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.