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Homes of the MadWomen? Meanings, Debates, Critical Insights 1 st International Health Humanities Conference Madness and Literature, The University of Nottingham,

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Presentation on theme: "Homes of the MadWomen? Meanings, Debates, Critical Insights 1 st International Health Humanities Conference Madness and Literature, The University of Nottingham,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Homes of the MadWomen? Meanings, Debates, Critical Insights 1 st International Health Humanities Conference Madness and Literature, The University of Nottingham, 6 th – 8 th August 2010 Saara Jäntti, PhD student,Department of Languages/English, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

2 Stories of Madness and PsychiatricEras Janet Frame Faces in the Water 1961 Asylumstory BessieHead A Question of Power 1973 Madness as a spiritualjourney Lauren Slater ProzacDiary 1997 The rise of the psychopharmaceuticals

3 FeministAetiology of Madness home ->madness Focus on the genderedfeatures of reproduction, violence and division of labour -> home a site of physical and structuralviolence, spacethatrestrictswomen’sagency and constraintheirparticipation in the publicsphere (Wollstonecraft, de Beauvoir, Chesler, Friedan and Showalter) immanence and ”comfortableconcentrationcamp” ->sadnessend of madness Criticaldicourse of women’smadness (Schlichter 2003) concernedwithmedicalization of women’smisery (Ussher 1991, 2010, Lafrance and Stoppard 2006) Madwoman as an emblem of women’soppression and ”houses as primarysymbols of femaleimprisonment” (Gilbert and Gubar’s (1979)

4 But: There’sMoreto Home… It was almost Christmas time and everybody in the mental hospital was wanting to go home. Some had homes and some didn’t but that made not much difference, they all wanted to go to a place that could be called home, where there were no locked doors and dayrooms and parks and Yards and circumspect little walks in the gardens on a Sunday afternoon […] When I get home, the patients said to each other, when I get to my own home, and sometimes when they went shopping down to the store on a Friday afternoon, past the school where the kids gardening in the school garden stopped to stare at the loonies till the master jerked them back to their task with, they’re people like you and me, remember, when they weren’t at all, they weren’t people like anybody in the outside world, they were shut away from streets and houses and fun and theatres and beaches, well, when they got to the store they would buy a Christmas card, for the Superintendent they said, then perhaps he will let me go home, because I want to go home, there’s nothing wrong with me really. - JanetFrame The Bedjacket

5 Madness and Home here historical/culturaldiscursivematerialconstructs Madness: differencewithin and betweenwomen, (former) patientswhoarewomen Home: A narrativemeans to conveydifferentaspects of the livedexperience of madness and itstreatments a subject’srelation to significantmaterialand/orimmaterialspacesshapedbymadness and itstreatment A concretesite of acts of living: ”anyoften-visitedplacethat is the object of cathexis, that in itsveryfamiliaritybecomes a symbolicextension and confirmation of the self.” (Felski 2000, 88) A site of subjectconstructionwithpoliticalpotential (Young 1997, hooks) and minimalagency (Honkasalo 2006)verb: to inhabit, dwell cf. sairastaa (To beill) symbolic, metaphorical Dwelling, Moving, Belonging ( Homes in Transformation Johansson and Saarikangas 2009)

6 Dwelling (1) a Human Mode of Being (Heidegger) genderedmode of being (Irigaray: menconstruct, womendwell; women as homelessmakers of homes) Frame: the sadness and pointlessness of houseworkremovedfrom the home of one’sown “I knew from the intricacy of the pattern and the care with which it was being followed, that this woman had been in hospital for a long time. I had seen it before, at Cliffhaven, this needling of their whole life into a peace of fancywork - a dressing-table cover, caddy table cloth; with no hope of ever seeing it in their own home, on their own furniture”. ( Faces, 82-3)

7 Dwelling (2) Head’s Elisabeth: cooking and mothering – means of warding off the torments of madness, home as a site of hosting guests, counter-force to madness: ”Elisabeth kept her house scrupulously polished up and clean.” ( QP, 121) Slater: learning to bake, cook, work the alarm clock: gaining minimal agency, buying furniture Young: home a space where the objects support us physically

8 Moving Madness and its treatment as restriction of movement Frame: confinement Istina removed from her home and placed in the hospital, and within the hospital moved from one ward to another depending on her prognosis; the hospital gates: “We stood at the gate, considering the marvel of the World where people, such is the deception of memory, did as they pleased, owned furniture, dressing tables with doilies on them and wardrobes with mirrors; and doors they could open and shut and open as many times as they chose; and no name tapes sewn inside the neck of their clothes; and handbags to carry, with nail files and make-up; and no one to watch while they were eating and to collect and count the knives afterwards and say in a frightening voice, “Rise, Ladies.” ( Faces, 52) (nostalgicrelation) Order and discipline in the hospital: “rise ladies!” “Dormitory, ladies!”

9 Moving (2) Head: exile Apartheid regime: people forcibly moved from their homes, Elisabeth leaves South Africa on an exit visa. Madness as intrinsic to exile Movement in and out of her hut, a place to return and to leave for the day’s work. Crisis point in her madness: she locks herself in the home, does not let anyone in. Mad state of being portrayed as one where a subject and her home cease to be permeable and become closed-in space with no interaction. Slater: immobility and rigidnesscausedby OCD Health: extending the geographical space of movement and agency Life story as a succession of homes : moving and imagining houses and homes presents itself as a way to construct one’s identity. She abandons her basement flat and moves to another, upper-scale neighbourhood.

10 Belonging Scale: from the handback to the World (Frame), family and personal relations to humanity Frame:return: estrangement from the family, humour used to accommodate her “trip” to the hospital to the life story: resort to popular stereotypical imagery Head: “half-race” origin of homelessness, madness as a site to negotiate one’s belonging to humanity Slater: ability to pose questions and participate in meaning- making achieved through the everyday act of swallowing the pill:

11 It is morning again, and I shake one capsule from the bottle. I stare into the pearl of the pill and wonder whether it has given rise to an addiction that brings me closer to my oystery heart or further from it. […] I hold the gem up between thumb and forefinger, turning it this way and that, assessing how light lands on its surface, pushes to illuminate the sphere’s interior, where, I sometimes imagine, my whole world might live, a long long time ago there once was – a hospital, a nurse, a horse, a love. […] I picture it all inside the pill […], and finally, then, I am grateful. My cognition may be fraying, my libido might be down, I may lose language. Prozac is a medicine that takes much away, but its very presence in my life has been about preserving as well as decaying. The flowers I cure. […] In the dream I forget the words where, I forget the word home, but in my waking life Prozac has taken me deeper and deeper into those questions – me or not me, crutch or inner bone. Returned, I am then, with each daily dose, with the wash of water to take the pill down, returned I am to my stomach, to my skin, to the fabrics of my past and, yes, to the threat of the synthetic. This is Prozac’s burden and its gift, keeping me alive to the most human of questions, bringing me forward, bringing me back, swaddling and unswaddling me, pushing me to ask which wrappings are real. ( PD, 200)


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