University of Sussex
Wynter-Vincent, Naomi.pdf (10.28 MB)

In the penumbra of Wilfred Bion: possibilities for literary criticism

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posted on 2023-06-09, 04:50 authored by Naomi Wynter-Vincent
In this thesis I explore the possibility of developing an approach to literary criticism oriented by the work of the British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion. Although his work is the subject of renewed interest within clinical psychoanalysis, Bion’s theoretical ideas and standing as a writer have not yet been the subject of sustained interest within the field of literary criticism. I seek to demonstrate how his ideas can generate productive readings of literary texts in ways that extend existing scholarship or supplement the insights of a Freudian literary criticism. The thesis draws widely from Bion’s clinical contributions from the 1960s (Learning from Experience, Elements of Psycho-Analysis, Transformations and Attention and Interpretation), the later collections of seminars and lectures, and his final experimental autobiography, A Memoir of the Future. I reference a number of his theoretical insights, including his theory of thinking (thoughts without a thinker, the container-contained relationship), his description of ‘psychotic’ modes of functioning (beta-elements, bizarre objects), the theory of transformations and the caesura. Although his work is oriented to the clinical context, the idiosyncrasies of his written and pedagogical style, along with his deep attention to the language and imagery of a number of thinkers and poets, open a rich seam of critical resources for the literary critic. Each chapter of the thesis develops a critical reading of an individual text: Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology, Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper, B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, Mary Butts’ short story ‘With and Without Buttons’, Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, J. G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, Nicholas Royle’s Quilt, and Wilfred Bion’s A Memoir of the Future. The last of these, exploring Bion’s late foray into experimental literary writing, also considers Bion’s interest as a writer.


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