The (mis)identification of madness: Unacknowledged doubleness and American fiction
DeSanto, Erica Lynn
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In “The (Mis)Identification of Madness: Unacknowledged Doubleness and American Fiction,” I argue that madness in American fiction has been misidentified as only metaphor, rather than as an extreme form of misidentification that could potentially afflict any fictional or existing person. This dissertation demonstrates that madness conceptualized as an irreconcilable experience of double identity expressed through metaphor should be reinterpreted instead as unacknowledged doubleness, which constitutes each person with an internal alienation that makes all forms of identification impossible. Using psychoanalytic inquiry, I argue that madness results when supposed identification prevents recognition of the self as double, whereas literal and textual reminders of this doubleness ensure sane existence. Through the American fiction written by ten authors that spans nearly two hundred years, this dissertation considers texts that both internally display manifestations of flawed identification and externally disrupt the reader's own sense of seamless identification. After asking, how does madness show the problem at the core of identification itself? I investigate three forms of identification and prove their falsity: subject-within-subject (how a subject identifies with him/herself), subject-to-subject (how a subject identifies with an other), and subject-to-text (how a subject identifies with an other in a written work). As the literary investigations of this dissertation show, unacknowledged internal doubleness engenders the misidentifications that contribute to identity performance, melancholia, jealous racism, and illusory love. These extreme forms of noncoincidence prompt readers of American literature to recognize their own doubleness through transient moments of belied identification, thereby protecting themselves from the potential madness that underlies existence.