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Type: Journal article
Title: "The Time of the Loony": Psychosis, Alienation, and R.D. Laing in the Fictions of Muriel Spark and Angela Carter
Author: Tonkin, M.
Citation: Contemporary Women's Writing, 2015; 9(3):366-384
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Issue Date: 2015
ISSN: 1754-1476
Statement of
Maggie Tonkin
Abstract: Although unfashionable today, R.D. Laing was one of the most influential psychiatrists of the twentieth century, an international countercultural guru, and an outspoken critic of conventional psychiatry whose theories were embraced by the New Left. The enthusiasm with which his theories of the dynamics of the family and the psychogenesis of mental illness were taken up by many feminists and female authors is particularly striking. As yet there has been no discussion of why his work, which ignores the issue of gender, was so influential for feminists and women writers in the late 1960s, only to be dropped shortly thereafter in favor of Freudian explanations of gender difference. This article analyzes allusions to Laing’s theories of alienation and psychosis in fiction published at the height of his celebrity: Angela Carter’s Bristol trilogy – Shadow Dance (1966), Several Perceptions (1968), and Love (1971) – and Muriel Spark’s The Hothouse by the East River (1973). Whereas Carter’s response to Laing ranges from encoding his model of the schizoid process to critiquing his perceived valorization of alienation and madness, Spark draws on Laingian theory to further her satire of psychiatry and the enforcement of gender roles within the nuclear family, as well as to underpin her metafictional project. Such a range of writerly responses to Laing suggests that his influence on writing, especially but not exclusively women’s writing, deserves further scholarly attention.
Rights: © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
RMID: 0030033248
DOI: 10.1093/cww/vpv014
Appears in Collections:Gender Studies and Social Analysis publications

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