Eyes! Birds! Walnuts! Pennies! Writing Psychosis

Erin Soros – University of East Anglia

My essay explores the formal challenge involved in using words to describe the experience of trauma-induced psychosis, or ‘brief reactive psychosis.’ This specific type of madness—intense, discrete, short-lived—can occur when an experience such as rape or military combat literally overwhelms conceptual understanding and psychological containment.  The essay will weave back and forth between a psychoanalytic reading of trauma, a philosophical analysis of language, and an exploration of literary and clinical representations.  Through this interplay, I will elucidate the debilitating free-fall that occurs when one slips from linguistic frames.  I argue that psychosis takes place as a formidable moment of ‘unjoining’—to turn inside-out one of Martin Heidegger’s terms—in which the systems of associations that give our world meaning suddenly begin to tear apart. 

Yet in this fall, psychosis itself becomes a form of creative container. If no one can accompany you in your journey to madness, you must invent your own witness.  The light is watching me!  When meaning begins to slip, we grasp at anything—Eyes! Birds! Walnuts! Pennies!—in hope of finding some trace of communication.  In madness we fall on the other side of words, on the animals’ side, with their unspeaking God.  Ultimately, the essay will elucidate its own impossibility by examining the paradox of trying to capture in language an experience that occurs at and as its threshold.   

Psychosis, as a moment of communicative failure, might tell us something fundamental about the structure of language itself.  In grave states of mental illness, one can experience what is clinically called ‘word salad’—a floundering that is alternatively jubilance and terror, in which language fails to make sense because its associations become indefinite and out of control.  Sounds and meanings echo, syllables shimmering like water, becoming everything, becoming nothing. ‘We are just going to the hospital.’  We are just.  Just.  Justice.  Jest.  Jess, do I know someone named Jess?  Jessica, jester, adjust her.  Judd.  JJJJ.  Udd udd udder.  Other.  Other other other otter otter.  O O O.  On the other extreme, one can also experience ‘errors of reference,’ moments when it seems as if language were speaking its secret hidden self directly to us.   The poster at the bus stop is a message from my beloved!  The music video tells me, in code, how to find him!   So:  on the one hand, the sliding arbitrary play of the signifier.  On the other hand, a sign that is magically sutured to the speaker alone.  To make language work—to function sanely within our daily alphabet—we must constantly be negotiating a realm of meaning between these two poles:  we use a word by limiting its association, and then we direct words at each other, even though we know we can never really hold them or make them hold.

Composite Characters in Autobiographical & Ethnographic Writing: Unethical or Honest?

Katie Karneham – Indiana Wesleyan University

Of the many controversies surrounding creative nonfiction, one of them has to do with the creation of composite characters—fictional characters based on several real-life individuals.  Examples of writing containing composite characters include Old Mr. Flood by Joseph Mitchell, Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick, and works by John Hershey and Alastair Reid.  In some cases, such as Old Mr. Flood, many critics believe the creation is harmless, or even beneficial to the story; in other cases, one can argue the factual reliability of the entire story is affected if any detail or character has been invented.  Many believe that at best, composite characters are a risky technique; at worst, they are lies, and have no place in any writing which calls itself “nonfiction.” However, this presentation will show how composite characters can enlighten two kinds of creative nonfiction: ethnographic writing and autobiographical writing. 
Using my creative nonfiction project on American study abroad students, which combines both ethnography and autobiography, this presentation will include techniques applicable to writers of third and first-person creative nonfiction. I will first demonstrate how a composite character can synthesize the many individual experiences of a particular group of people into a common experience.  Next I will show how the composite character can also incorporate the author’s experience.  In my project, the composite character is a blend of both the author and the group of study abroad students, and the character takes on some of the more common aspects and experiences of this group of people as well as viewpoints and personal details of the author.  This approach allows the author to simultaneously be more honest in revealing personal experiences, while seeing the situation through the eyes of the other characters.  It also prevents the author’s experiences from distracting readers from the main focus of the writing. When used and introduced appropriately, composite characters can enhance the truth of the writing, rather than functioning merely as an interesting invention.  The audience understands the character is a creation, but not a lie, thus allowing the work to portray a universal truth, rather than objective facts.

Combining the Creative and the Critical: the letter and the academic essay

Rhiannon Marks – University of Aberystwyth

This paper attempts to explore the exciting possibilities offered by epistolary criticism, that is literary criticism in letter form, and will demonstrate how experimenting with this genre  in the context of an academic essay can be a refreshing experience for the reader and author alike.
The paper derives from my own experience of working on a PhD thesis which is incidentally written in the form of fictitious letters addressed to both a contemporary Welsh language poet called Menna Elfyn, and an imaginary young student named Martha.  The letters, on the one hand, detail my process of reading Elfyn’s work but, on the other hand, advise the young student on several possible ways of reading. 
The aim of conducting such a seemingly bizarre work is to challenge the norms of academic writing by exploring the thin line between ‘reality’ and ‘fiction’ and their overlap, and in so doing raising the question of  whether one is ever truly more ‘valid’ than the other.  A creative non-fiction ‘essay’ of this kind therefore allows several discourses to co-exist, in a way that a traditional academic essay doesn’t allow.  Emphasis is placed on the journey of the reader/author rather than on the final destination( ...if there is ever a destination to be reached!) since the letters are placed in ‘real time’ as it were to suggest the ongoing nature of the process of reading.    
The paper will therefore trace the advantages of adopting the letter form as a mode of literary criticism, but will also deal with the challenges that one encounters when experimenting with the boundaries of a conventional academic essay in such a way.

From Legislative to Interpretive Modes of Travel: Baudrillard in ‘America'

Dr Gillian Jein - University of Stirling

Travel writing reveals a desire for legibility of the Other. Between the act of travel and the writing of the journey we perceive the need for a bridge to reach from the confrontation of the signs of difference to the communication of those signs, necessitating a transition into language. This language, however, risks sedimentation; the settling of difference into the dust of sameness, and the hermeneutic challenge to solve cultural illegibility often leads to the imposition of conventional oppositions that eradicate alterity. Extending Zygmunt Bauman’s distinction between the ‘legislative’ and ‘interpretive’ intellectual discourse to modalities of travel writing, such an imposition may be considered a legislative mode of travel writing, and one that is in constant jeopardy of lapsing into culturally imperialist attitudes. Travel writing’s non-fictional status, therefore, entails a position on the broader horizon of ethical debate, and implicates it in representational strategies enabling the persistence of cultural hegemonies.

Taking these risks into account, and engaging with the ethical debate surrounding the aesthetics of travel writing, this paper puts forward a response to criticisms of Jean Baudrillard’s America, which have described the travelogue variously as neo-imperialist, Eurocentric, anti-humanist, perverse, and worst of all, conservative. These critiques, stemming from the urgency of postcolonial ethical stances, position the travelogue as an aesthetic form of legislation for the Other, thus enabling a dismissal of the text as the culmination of an imperialist, Eurocentric gaze. Alternatively, I suggest that Baudrillard’s America is indicative of a still problematic, reflexive mode of writing that falls beyond the reach of the conventional ethics of travel criticism. Read as an interpretive, nomadic form of travel writing, America demonstrates not only an awareness of the artificial or constructed relationship between sign and object, but also, through its dislocation of signifiers, plays with the extremities of legislative discourse so as to reveal the very impossibility of such legislation. Rather than an Other, what emerges from this travel account, therefore, is an alterity of signscapes, an auto-reflexive and culturally critical space, that raises the question of whether it is ever, or will ever, be possible to travel write ethically. In reading Baudrillard’s travelogue in this way, I engage with the challenge its aesthetic modalities pose to the frameworks of travel studies criticism, and in so doing hope to nuance postmodernist travel writing’s ethical legacy to the shape of current critical strategies.

Reportage from Foreign Lands: Who matters most, the writer, the reader or the subject of the story?

Jenny McKay – University of Stirling

Asne Seierstad, the award-winning Norwegian foreign correspondent, initially attracted the highest praise for her internationally popular book-length piece of reportage The Bookseller of Kabul. The book is an intimate portrait of an Afghan family during the time after the fall of the Taliban in 2002 and is based on an extended stay of four months when Seierstad lived with the family in their Kabul apartment. She was given generous access to all aspects of their lives and was able to interview them in depth as well as sleeping on the same floor and eating the same food. The book’s success, however, led to intense scrutiny and strong criticism in countries other than the UK from scholars such as ethnographers, who felt Seierstad had betrayed her contract with the family, as well as from the subject of the book himself, Abdul Rais, who said his society’s tradition of hospitality had been abused because of the way his family had been portrayed. This paper will discuss the tension between a journalist’s responsibility to her readers and her responsibility to her subjects, using The Bookseller of Kabul as a case study, It will also consider how far either writer or subject can expect to control the way a piece of journalistic writing will be perceived once it is published.

Thoreau, Dillard, and the Narrative of Discovery

Alexandra Manglis – University of Oxford

When Annie Dillard wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) she was arguably responding to the request made by Henry David Thoreau in Walden (1856) that “I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life.” In both Walden and Pilgrim the authors hide themselves behind their disarmingly candid use of the pronoun, “I,” and proceed to recount the story of their life in the woods; a life contained by a small geographical distance, and a relatively short amount of time. The journey that follows then, is less about physical distance and destination and more about ipseity and a constant state of discovery. 
This paper first seeks to explore the dialogue that takes place between Walden and Pilgrim and how that dialogue brings both works into the genre of travel literature. Then, by using travel-writing theoreticians like William Spengemann and Mary Louise Pratt, the paper will examine how the two works account for the experiences of departure and discovery within a full American, Romantic form. This will bring into question the writer’s/narrator’s position against their temporary place of abode, finding that the “I” of the text becomes as provisional as the experience described. The temporary nature of the experience, an experience already foregone and returned from, and the consequent temporariness of the self within that experience will bring the paper into an investigation of language’s ability to contain the transient account on the page and thus how both Thoreau and Dillard engage with obscurity and clarity in their use of language. 
Consequently, the paper will culminate in proving that, through a careful play of form and language, both Walden and Pilgrim transform conventional travel-narratives into highly wrought works of Romantic literature.

‘One doesn’t have much but oneself’: Christopher Isherwood’s investigation into identity and the manipulation of form in The Memorial

Rebecca Gordon – University of Aberdeen

Christopher Isherwood consistently focuses on the self within his writing; although he maintains that books such as The Berlin Novels and Lions and Shadows are fiction and should not be read as autobiography ‘in the ordinary journalistic sense of the word’, the fact remains that with the adoption of a first-person narrator named ‘Christopher Isherwood’, these works have often been approached as autobiographical. Isherwood tempts his readers with an apparent insight into his personal and private life, whilst all the time withholding the vital clef to his seeming roman. Blurring the distinction between autobiography and fiction, Isherwood created and re-created his fictional and indeed at times fantastical imagined worlds. 
The importance of identity, in particular its link to Freudian concepts of self-analysis and self-understanding, were key themes for Isherwood even prior to his more obviously autobiographical creation ‘Christopher Isherwood’, who first appears in Lions and Shadows (1938). His second published novel, The Memorial (1932), although narrated by a third-person-narrator I consider to be an early version of self-representation. This can be seen on a basic level – the male protagonist of this novel, Eric Vernon, undeniably shares biographical details with his author. 
However, The Memorial is more than an autobiographical novel. Isherwood manipulates form in order to focus all elements of the plot on the individual and The Memorial represents a consciously-adopted strategy for self-exploration. Beyond the formal elements of Isherwood’s writing that allow readers to approach The Memorial as an early conception and representation of the legend of ‘self’, he also engages with intellectual strategies of generating an ‘autobiographical’ mythology. This is linked in particular to Freud and psychoanalysis in general. Within The Memorial, Isherwood intentionally manipulates different intellectual strategies in order to present self-exploration and self-analysis, which are central in psychoanalytical theory.
This paper examines the different formal and intellectual strategies that Isherwood adopts within The Memorial in order to represent a mythologised version of self. I also consider the manner in which he is employing and manipulating fictional and autobiographical elements in his writing in order to question the ‘truth’ of a narrated self.

Ghosts of the Real: The Spectral Memoir

Helen Pleasance – Manchester Metropolitan University

Hilary Mantel’s memoir, Giving up the Ghost (2003) begins with the impossibility of the life text: the need to ‘get it right’, (Mantel, p.5) and honour the real experiences to which the text refers, is always thwarted by the process of writing itself, in which these real experiences slip away and are turned into something else. Mantel’s text draws attention, from the outset, to the way in which language constructs its own reality. For the fictional text this is not problematic, but for a text that purports to document a reality beyond its pages it is deeply so. The more language constructs a textual presence, the more the ‘reality’ beyond that language disappears. This, particularly, raises questions about the strategies of realism. The realist text seems to conjure a complete world whole on the page, which can easily be read as mimesis of the real world outside the text, and obscures the formal codes by which it is constructed. In the life text the presence that realism constructs comes to stand in for and replace the real events outside it, which have disappeared in the past.
The paper will examine four memoirs that engage directly with the issues raised by the formal strategies for making the disappeared past textually present. As well as Mantel, Paul Morley’s Nothing (2000), Blake Morrison’s And When did you last see your Father? (2006) and Brian Dillon’s In the Dark Room (2006) will be discussed. Morley and Morrison lay bare the process of turning the real bodies of their fathers into textual bodies. Mantel and Dillon both use the motif of haunting to describe the relationship between their written and lived pasts. Rather than direct mimesis, all suggest that the text bears a spectral relationship to the events and people it is about.
The paper will then go on to discuss how I have attempted to use similar strategies in my own memoir about my father. The memoir is a response to Moors murders narratives. My father was involved in the events of the Moors Murders (he was probation officer to David Smith, who was Myra Hindley’s brother-in-law and the chief prosecution witness at the Moors trial) but is absent from all narrative renditions of it. By invoking his spectre I aim to challenge the certainty of the Moors murders as a historical narrative. The haunting of the spectral memoir can challenge history, with its claim that things can never have been exactly as they are recorded.

An Introduction to Schizoanalysis – the Attempt to Develop a Musical Form of Criticism

Jo Collinson Scott – University of Glasgow

This paper is an introduction to the process of development of what I have provisionally named ‘schizoanalysis’. This developing form of creative criticism uses peculiarly schizophrenic modes of thought and language-use to disrupt the normal strictly ‘rational’ approach to writing about music and to introduce a more inherently ‘musical’ language with which to ‘mime’ objects of study as a means of exploration.

The basis of this approach lies on the one hand, with the example of Deleuze and Guattari’s application of an analytical approach that is modelled on schizophrenic modes of thinking/being (“flow theory”) and on the other, on new understandings of the nature of language and discourse proposed by Derrida in his concept of “Grammatology”. Deconstruction is very similar to flow-theory in the way it pursues the flow of signifiers and flags up their incompatibility with closed systems, noting too their convergences and divergences with a number of ideologies as expressed in language systems. However there are significant points of departure between deconstruction and flow-theory and it is here, where these proposed ‘differences’ lie, that our project of schizoanalysis takes shape. In the gap between a deconstruction characterised as generalisable, non-multivalent leveller of texts and flow-theory characterised as an idiosyncratic, non-generalisable, flighty dead-end, we find something important to the practice of musical criticism. 

As Gregory Ulmer has pointed out in his book Applied Grammatology: Post(e) Pedagogy from Jaques Derrida to Joseph Beuys there is a clear difference in that way that Derrida treats philosophical works (which he deconstructs) and the way that he treats artistic or literary works. These works, he doesn’t deconstruct, but mimes. Ulmer describes how Derrida treats these works as “models or tutors to be imitated, as generative forms for the production of another text.” So whereas deconstruction is a mode of analysis, ‘Writing’ or ‘Grammatology’ is a mode of composition. Ulmer describes the application of grammatology as a ‘post-critical’ practice and characterises it as follows: “As if following Wittgenstein’s admonition that “the meaning is the use”, Derrida enacts or performs (mimes) the compositional structuration of the referent, resulting in another text of the same “kind”… Post-Criticism then, functions with an ‘epistemology’ of performance – knowing as making, producing, doing, acting… Thus post-criticism writes “on” its object…”  

With this in mind it is possible to compare Deleuze and Guattari’s flow-theory to a grammatological rather than a deconstructive approach to their material. Sussman’s criticism of flow-theory as too singular, idiosyncratic and un-generalisable to be of much academic use becomes nullified when one considers their approach to be an intentionally subject-specific, object-derived (or more appropriately ‘object-written’) and un-generalisable mime of its content.

Viewed like this (i.e. flow-theory as a subject-specific application of grammatology) there are certain subjects - other than Deleuze and Guattari’s - to which flow-theory is an extremely useful grammatological enabler. The practical outworkings of flow-theory (i.e. Deleuze and Guattari’s works of schizoanalysis) are peculiarly adept at miming musical subjects through their embodiment of the motion (or flow) of signifiers and their ability to allow the ‘play of signifiers’ to perform texts (as on an instrument). For this reason flow-theory is particularly useful taken as a model for the application of grammatology to certain musical subjects.

Thus in bringing schizoanalysis to musical works, we apply a specific version of such grammatological techniques to mime both the structure of the musical work and the grammatological process itself. As such, I take the material of a critical analysis of the elements of Sass’s post-antipsychiatric model of schizophrenia combined with Deleuze and Guattari’s flow-theory and Derrida’s practice of grammatology and attempt to weave it into a “musical” work – a criticism that mimes the musical aspects of the critical material and the form of the musical objects with which I have chosen to interact. 

My aim is that this schizoanalysis will take the form of the composition of a type of music that fashions its works from musicological or critical material. The content of that musicological material will be the examination outlined above, but this content – the critical text – once created will then be used as plastic matter in order to mould a characterisation or a mime of the structure and action of the works that are to be my focus.  As a result, the musical works I intend to examine will become less ‘subjects’ of my study and more subsumptions into that study.