As promised here’s a little more detail about the project. In the next post I”ll discuss the methodology a bit more and possibly outline the proposed structure. The following is the first draft of the research proposal (I’ll post the final draft when it’s done):
Since the publication of A Lie About My Father (2006), John Burnside’s prose has increasingly explored the boundaries of mental illness and addiction. Characterising both his work and subjectivity as apophenic in nature, John Burnside’s second memoir, Waking up in Toytown (2010), addressed the shaping effect of this diagnosis – a concern which mediates and informs his three contemporaneous novels: The Devil’s Footprints (2007), Glister (2008), and A Summer of Drowning (2011).
Preoccupied by such phenomena, Burnside’s prose poses an invaluable subjective and affective counterpoint to conventional medical discourse, providing a valuable literary challenge to the privilege which underlines and enforces the liminal points and boundaries between sanity and illness. While as Foucault notes, structures of power such as medicine and psychology encourage a turn towards discourse, such an imperative is only to speak within strictly policed bounds of sense and non-sense; of what is factual and non-factual – a prejudice echoed and subverted in the title quotation of this research proposal and in Burnside’s work in general. An analysis of his prose thus offers a means of challenging, re-inscribing and re-defining these boundaries – an act of what Derrida terms as limitrophy. Utilising material obtained from John Burnside’s archive – housed in the nearby St Andrews University library – to supplement detailed close readings, and two as yet unpublished interviews, this research project will undertake such an act of limitrophy, charting and exploring Burnside’s portrayal of apophenia and addiction.
The initial research outcomes of this analysis will be two article-length interviews discussing these themes in Burnside’s later work, and a series of three journal articles addressing The Devil’s Footprints, Glister and A Summer of Drowning. This will form the basis of a subsequent, monograph-length study of how such concerns have shaped the possibilities of John Burnside’s prose.