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Doris Lessing and R. D. Laing: madness and the matter of the body

Doris Lessing and R. D. Laing: madness and the matter of the body
Doris Lessing and R. D. Laing: madness and the matter of the body
With the publication of The Divided Self in 1960, R. D. Laing initiated the British ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement which was to challenge the hegemony of conventional medical and psychoanalytical models of madness during that decade and beyond. Anti-psychiatric thinking coincided with the beginning of the second wave of feminism and the two movements coalesced within a number of literary texts, most notably Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. However, whilst Lessing appears to agree with Laing’s account of schizophrenia and, indeed, largely bases her own representations of madness on his understanding of that experience, her texts nevertheless struggle to fully realise the potential of his theories for women. With reference to The Golden Notebook and her later novels The Four-Gated City and Briefing for a Descent into Hell, I argue that Lessing’s fiction complicates Laing’s theories by demonstrating the significance of the sex/gender system, so conspicuously absent in his works, to women’s experiences of schizophrenia. Lessing’s ‘madness novels’ suggest that Laing’s ultimate aim to deconstruct the sanity/madness binary remains unrealised for the madwoman because of his inattention to that binary’s associative opposition: male/female. This thesis examines Lessing’s engagement with Laing and argues that any straightforward relationship between his theory and her fiction is complicated by the discourses of gendered embodiment he fails to account for but which continues to define and bind Lessing’s female characters. Using contemporary feminist body theory, I read the female body as a site of contention in and between Lessing’s and Laing’s texts and, finally, as (an) irresolvable ‘matter’ in anti-psychiatry’s understanding of the experience of madness.
Myler, Kerry Sara
dd4319f3-defb-4c12-91d0-514716f4b3a3
Myler, Kerry Sara
dd4319f3-defb-4c12-91d0-514716f4b3a3
Hanson, Sheila
4be8b499-6221-4df0-a8ef-e12414422fa5

(2010) Doris Lessing and R. D. Laing: madness and the matter of the body. University of Southampton, School of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis, 346pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

With the publication of The Divided Self in 1960, R. D. Laing initiated the British ‘anti-psychiatry’ movement which was to challenge the hegemony of conventional medical and psychoanalytical models of madness during that decade and beyond. Anti-psychiatric thinking coincided with the beginning of the second wave of feminism and the two movements coalesced within a number of literary texts, most notably Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. However, whilst Lessing appears to agree with Laing’s account of schizophrenia and, indeed, largely bases her own representations of madness on his understanding of that experience, her texts nevertheless struggle to fully realise the potential of his theories for women. With reference to The Golden Notebook and her later novels The Four-Gated City and Briefing for a Descent into Hell, I argue that Lessing’s fiction complicates Laing’s theories by demonstrating the significance of the sex/gender system, so conspicuously absent in his works, to women’s experiences of schizophrenia. Lessing’s ‘madness novels’ suggest that Laing’s ultimate aim to deconstruct the sanity/madness binary remains unrealised for the madwoman because of his inattention to that binary’s associative opposition: male/female. This thesis examines Lessing’s engagement with Laing and argues that any straightforward relationship between his theory and her fiction is complicated by the discourses of gendered embodiment he fails to account for but which continues to define and bind Lessing’s female characters. Using contemporary feminist body theory, I read the female body as a site of contention in and between Lessing’s and Laing’s texts and, finally, as (an) irresolvable ‘matter’ in anti-psychiatry’s understanding of the experience of madness.

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More information

Published date: December 2010
Organisations: University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 337559
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/337559
PURE UUID: 7b29d268-64f8-452c-a5c6-5e8bbf74a315

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Date deposited: 27 Jun 2012 10:04
Last modified: 22 Jul 2017 04:01

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Contributors

Author: Kerry Sara Myler
Thesis advisor: Sheila Hanson

University divisions

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