Documents in Madness: Mental Disability and Affective Play in Twentieth Century Irish and Caribbean Literatures

Dissertation, University of California, San Diego (2019)
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Abstract

This dissertation takes up questions of access at the level of language itself, as well as in the context of cultural institutions in emerging global communities. Using the texts of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Shani Mootoo, I argue experimental narrative techniques develop new understandings of mental disability by pushing against the limits of language, particularly in relation to mentally disabled women. The novels and plays examined function as creative objects that refigure the reader’s relationship to mental disability through embodied reading practices. In resisting previous tendencies to read literary representations of mental disability as metaphor, I offer an alternative framework for understanding mental disability as an ongoing interactive process between bodies. Drawing on work from disability studies, critical gender studies, and trauma theory, I call for approaches to mental disability in literature that understand reading as an interactive process between reader and text, proposing a methodology for understanding how embodied reading practices inspire new understandings of mental disability and trauma in emerging global communities. In appreciating mental disability as an ongoing interactive process between bodies, readers can better attend to the nuanced ways in which complex embodiment calls for innovative modes of storytelling that challenge histories of representation.

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