Here’s the final version of the research proposal. Thanks to Fiona for her feedback:
‘I’m not crazy – I know enough, after all, not to talk about these things to the living’1: Portrayals of Apophenia and Addiction in John Burnside’s Later Prose.
Since the publication of A Lie About My Father (2006), John Burnside’s fictional and non-fictional prose has increasingly explored the boundaries of mental illness and addiction. Characterising both his work and subjectivity as apophenic in nature, the second volume of his memoir, Waking up in Toytown (2010), addressed the shaping effect of this diagnosis – a concern which also mediates and informs his three contemporaneous novels: The Devil’s Footprints (2007), Glister (2008), and A Summer of Drowning (2011).
In its exploration of these liminal states, Burnside’s prose provides a subjective and affective counterpoint to conventional medical discourse surrounding such conditions, challenging the privilege which underlies and enforces the boundary between sanity and illness. While, as Foucault notes, structures of power such as medicine and psychology encourage a turn towards discourse, such an imperative speaks within strictly policed bounds of sense and non-sense, of what is factual and non-factual; an act of translation echoed and subverted in the title quotation of this research proposal and in Burnside’s work in general.
My project thus proposes to combine an analysis of material obtained from Burnside’s archive – housed in the nearby St Andrews University library – with detailed close readings of his prose texts, and two as yet unpublished interviews, to explore how his writing challenges, re-inscribes and re-defines the boundaries of medical discourse.
The initial research outcomes of this analysis will consist of two article-length interviews discussing these themes in Burnside’s 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 later prose.