Date

2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Foltz, Mary

Other advisers/committee members

Whitley, Ed; Dolan, Elizabeth; Bearn, Gordon

Abstract

It is a commonplace by now among postmodern scholars, such as Frederic Jameson, Gilles Deleuze, Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault, that the peculiar conditions and characteristics of postmodernity are productive of alternative subjectivities. This recognition has engendered groundbreaking scholarship in such disciplines as medicine, cartography, history, linguistics, and political theory by those listed above and others. This dissertation aims to broaden the scope of postmodern scholarship into a new realm—that of biopsychiatry—by using works of contemporary American fiction as case studies in which to analyze the development, codification, and gradual critique of this edifice. The edifice of biopsychiatry as a cultural dominant may be conveniently dated to the publication of the DSM-III in 1980. This document registered a change in psychiatry from viewing distress as a consequence of human beings confronting normal difficulties within individual, familial, and social contexts to viewing emotional problems not as distress but disease, requiring not the intervention of counselors or therapists but rather the promulgation of a pharmaceutical cure that perceives the problem to be dysfunctional brain chemicals. This project, therefore, analyzes these developments by reading postmodern theory through contemporary American novels written by Richard Powers, Leslie Marmon Silko, Samuel Delany, and Jonathan Franzen. While employing different styles and exploring different ramifications of biopsychiatry within postmodernity, these novels all share a desire to parody, critique, represent, and imagine alternatives to the current system of biopsychiatry. These imaginary interventions, then, can be seen as literary speculations, literature-as-medicine, offering myriad models of being in the world that celebrate and play with different lifestyles, embracing all moods, organizations, and social structures except those that close down experimentation under the guise of political health, regulation, and productivity more expedient for American neoliberalism than the individual’s story.

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