Life Writing and Schizophrenia

Encounters at the Edge of Meaning


How do you write your life story when readers expect you not to make sense? How do you write a case history that makes sense when, face to face with schizophrenia, your ability to tell a diagnostic story begins to fall apart? This book examines work in several genres of life writing–autobiography, memoir, case history, autobiographical fiction–focused either on what it means to live with schizophrenia or what it means to understand and ‘treat’ people who have received that diagnosis. Challenging the romanticized connection between literature and madness, Life Writing and Schizophrenia explores how writers who hear voices and experience delusions write their identities into narrative, despite popular and medical representations of schizophrenia as chaos, violence, and incoherence. The study juxtaposes these narratives to case histories by clinicians writing their encounters with those diagnosed with schizophrenia, encounters that call their own narrative authority and coherence into question.

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Mary Wood is the author of The Writing on the Wall: Women’s Autobiography and the Asylum (University of Illinois Press, 1994) and has published articles on autobiography, case history, literature and psychiatry, and narrative ethics in Narrative, British Journal of Medical Ethics, Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, and American Literary Realism. She teaches in the English Department at the University of Oregon.
"This is an important book, advancing the study of first-person narratives of madness and demonstrating the substantive contributions that literary scholars can make to medical history. Wood succeeds in her goal to “write respectfully about the often startling mental phenomena that are a part of human experience” (p.x), partly by taking her own account and that of every person she writes about equally as objects of inquiry. With “stories of schizophrenia” her explicit focus, she makes clear at the outset that these include “stories written by those living with it and stories written by those who study and treat it” (p. 1). Wood understands clearly the key challenge faced by all scholars of madness narratives: “How do those living with chizophrenia write about their lives given that the diagnosis defines them as unable to tell a coherent story?” (p. 2)."
- Gail A. Hornstein (Mount Holyoke College) in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Volume 89, Number 2, Summer 2015, p. 334-336.
‘Time Turned Solid, Like a Wall’: Four Mental Hospital Memoirs
‘Will They Hear and Be Convinced by my Story?’ First Person Accounts from Schizophrenia Bulletin
‘A Striking Similarity with our Theory’: Freud and Bateson Read Memoirs of Schizophrenia
‘The Speech Which Arranges the Dance’: The Undoing of Schizophrenia in Janet Frame’s Autobiography and Fiction
Diagnostic Narrative in the DSM-IV Casebook
‘That Damn Schizophrenia’: Evolving Identity in Eunice Wood’s Unwritten Story
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