The autonomous narratives of Joyce Carol Oates: Dissociation and the mapping of the mind.

The autonomous narratives of Joyce Carol Oates: Dissociation and the mapping of the mind.

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Title: The autonomous narratives of Joyce Carol Oates: Dissociation and the mapping of the mind.
Author: Brett, Mary A.
Abstract: Seven recent works by Joyce Carol Oates, published between 1987 and 1995, represent the author's concentrated attempt to map the human mind. In these seven texts, Oates explores the "Multiple personalities [that] inhabit us all." The frequently warring voices in Oates's texts reflect her interest in Carl Jung's idea of multiple complexes, or "multiple centres of consciousness," and the activity of dissociating that forms these centres when an event threatens to overwhelm the ego. My thesis considers the following texts: You Must Remember This (1987), Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart (1990), I Lock My Door Upon Myself (1990), The Rise of Life On Earth (1991), Black Water (1992), Foxfire (1993), and Zombie (1995). The dramatic stimulus of six of these texts springs from a traumatic event: witnessing or committing a murder, physical or sexual abuse, a dissociated condition resulting from childhood neglect, or simply the failure of the psyche to integrate in maturation. The seventh text, Zombie, explores the mind of a psychopath whose mental condition exceeds the boundaries of the dissociative, fragmented or depersonalized psyche. The chilling chronicle demonstrates the complete severance of the heart from the head and offers no causal factor to explain its existence. All of the texts examined here reflect an artist refusing to flinch in the presence of material which, in Oates's words, can often be described as "the contradictory, the obscene, the vulgar, the unbearable." Oates has been interested, throughout her career, in "the recording of various states of mind, some of them extreme." Although her 1976 novel, Childwod, explores multiple voice, it is not until the late 1980s that Oates's treatment of multiple voice becomes a sustained study of dissociative states. In Oates's recent work, these complexes, which the author calls "storm[s] of emotion," are integral to the dynamic of her texts. Like the phenomenon of multiple personality, her texts form what Hacking calls a "microcosm of thinking"---an area that can be fruitfully studied in relation to Jung's complex theory. All of Oates's fiction discussed in this thesis has characters who exhibit dissociative traits. What is singular about the author's use of dissociation in all these texts is the function these dissociative complexes perform in moving her plots forward. Oates establishes the complexes through her use of multiple voices and then initiates a series of emotional triggers that bring one complex into play. Moving directly from feeling to action without the intercession of reason is a pattern Oates plays out frequently in her recent texts. Because Oates replays the mind as she believes it works, principal characters proceed associatively, linking memory with present events to form emotional associations, which, in turn, trigger the characters' actions in the texts. Oates uses different voices within the same character to track the dissociative fragments that make up her protagonists' personalities. By using voices to create dissociative complexes, or minipersonalities, Oates is also able to sustain a high emotional engagement in her fiction and with her readers. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)
Date: 2000
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/8557

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