Disorder Order Disorder: A creative-critical essay study of contemporary psychiatric identities
Royal College of Art, London
Supervisor: Dr Brian Dillon
In literature and psychiatry we are concerned about the rigour of proliferating classifications (of genre, of disorder) and these classifications’ diverse effects. My thesis examines the relationship between classification and identity in both disciplines, with the aim of improving our understanding of personal identities that are increasingly inflected with ambiguous psychiatric concepts, and texts inflected with ambiguous genre boundaries. The outcome will be a body of creative-critical essays on a range of psychiatric classifications and treatments little explored by arts and humanities researchers.My approach follows authors of creative-critical writing (e.g. Nelson, Rankine, Lerner) who formally disrupt discrete literary and academic classifications to serve their substantive themes. With a similar formal intent, my thesis engages psychiatry, a subject that has received scant attention from creative-critical writing, a genre that aims to be formally and intellectually inventive (Benson and Connors, 2014). Existing creative-critical writing on psychiatry has tended to be theoretical and/or of narrow disciplinary focus, whereas my thesis examines the contemporary terrain of psychiatry across social science and bioscience disciplines, and grounds its analysis in original ethnographic work.I choose the essay as the form and psychiatry as the subject because both operate liminally— between classifications—themselves: psychiatry between the life sciences and the sciences ofsociety and culture (Fitzgerald, et al., 2016), and the essay between fiction and nonfiction, literature and journalism, art and science—an elusive form that can reveal the contingency of classificatory systems (Good, 1988). This relationship between form and subject aims to inspire innovation in my writing practice, and generate insights into how ambiguous, contingent classifications affect the construction and interpretation of personal and literary narratives.This research engages with timely issues of growing mental distress and diagnoses, underfunded mental health care, fractious identitarian politics, and mercurial media, literary and political narratives that elide classificatory boundaries.