Edges of the mind : psychic margins and the modernist aesthetic in Vernon Lee, Evelyn Underhill, May Sinclair, Dion Fortune and Jane Harrison.
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The question 'Where does she begin and I end, asked in Virginia Woolf's The Years, voices a modernist concern with the limits of self-identity and related questions of egoism and altruism. In this thesis I argue that this concern is informed by a pre-history of thinking about selfhood, psychic boundaries and the spiritual mainly ignored by readings of modernism which map the psyche via psychoanalysis, or Freud's 'discovery of the unconscious'. Our thinking about the self has become colonised by the literary doctrines of better known canonical figures of the modernist period, generating a way of thinking about the limits of the psyche which is both literally and metaphorically circumscribed. A reading of more eccentric discourses explicitly engaged in negotiating the boundaries of individuality can provide a history of the psychic underpinnings to the modernist conception of the self. The representation of marginal states of consciousness, or epiphanic moments, is crucial to the literature of modernism: interpretation of these altered states, or edges, can be refigured through readings of Vernon Lee, Evelyn Underhill, May Sinclair, Dion Fortune and Jane Harrison: five women writing between 1880-1930 for whom pre-Freudian forms of dissolution and challenge to self-unity are palpably present in the form of telepathy, subliminal selves, oceanic consciousness and internal multiplicity. In addition to writing non-fictional texts which variously explore the psychological, philosophical, ethical, spiritual and occult implications of the modernist position, each of these women, excepting the classical scholar Jane Harrison, also wrote fiction. The aesthetic questions of modernism dovetail into the theoretical arguments of the writers in this thesis, inviting a different reading of its psychological sub-text and to suggest that where 'stream-of-consciousness' is stylistically indispensable, the 'oceanic', as counterpart, thematically haunts the modernist aesthetic
AuthorsMcCarthy, Justine Scott
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