“A New Shape of Reason”: Mapping Neuroatypical Minds in the Works of Virginia Woolf, Janet Frame, and Elizabeth Strout

Author: Gray, Pearl Anne

Date: 2021

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

Link to this item using this URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/12332


The methodologies used to explore neuroatypical minds in fiction expose both the strengths and weaknesses of literary studies. How we interact with literature is often a microcosmic reflection of how we engage with the actual world and understanding the neuroatypical experience is essential to diversifying this engagement. Although literary studies are often the champion of empathy, critics who rely on outmoded theories may unwittingly ally themselves with antiquated ideas about neuroatypical minds and its experiential intersections with gender, class, and sexuality. In this thesis, I problematise several such methodologies used to approach neuroatypical functioning; in particular, psychoanalytic literary theory, which enacts the idiomatic separation of mind and body, the pathologizing of neuroatypicality, and reinforces the reductive timeline of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. I argue for an empirically informed and multidisciplinary approach towards representations of mental processing in order to emphasise the rich potential literary studies has for the domain of cognitive study. My methodology is thus shaped by cognitive literary studies and based upon an ethos of equal exchange between the cognitive sciences and literary studies. Throughout this thesis, I engage with a variety of disciplines—including affect theory, disability studies, and memory studies—that offer insight into mental processing and evokes both the effable and ineffable qualities of the othered mind. The three texts I centre my discussion on are Mrs Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf, Faces in the Water (1961) by Janet Frame, and My Name is Lucy Barton (2016) by Elizabeth Strout. All three novels articulate a subversive mode of representing neuroatypical minds that I suggest is further invigorated by a dialogue with the cognitive sciences. Following the diverse approach of my three authors, I demonstrate the need for a multidisciplinary methodology informed by epistemic care towards its neuroatypical subjects, and one that supports the urgent revision occurring in the relationship between artistic and scientific disciplines.

Subjects: Neuroatypical, Cognitive Literary Studies, Virginia Woolf, Janet Frame, Elizabeth Strout, neurocosmopolitanism

Citation: ["Gray, P. A. (2021). ‘A New Shape of Reason’: Mapping Neuroatypical Minds in the Works of Virginia Woolf, Janet Frame, and Elizabeth Strout (Thesis, Master of Arts). University of Otago. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10523/12332"]

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