Electroshock therapy and cold war literature: Physiological and narrative therapies and their roles in exploring sanity
McCabe, Rachel Anne
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My Master's thesis, which delves into the prose of the 1960s, situates the works of Sylvia Plath, Ken Kesey, Eliot Baker, and E.L. Doctorow as attempts to grapple with society's efforts to "cure" those suffering from trauma during the Cold War era. In these texts, institutions gain control over individuals whose problems are seemingly beyond the aid of psychoanalysis, and thus, a biological or physiological cure is deployed. Patients are literally shocked into traumatic reliving of their past experiences in hopes of alleviating the burden these memories impose on the subject. These methods, which include electroshock therapy and lobotomy, are rationalized as means for bringing the patient out of his or her psychosis. However, each narrative exposes the fine line between psychological problems that warrant such extreme measures and the use of these measures to punish the socially unacceptable, producing a critique of the normative sociological measures that developed between the 1950s and 1960s. These texts explore both the rise as well as the fall of psychoanalysis in America following World War II, establishing narrative patterns and dialogues that privilege the communicative elements of psychoanalysis over the mechanical treatment of psychiatric practices like electroshock therapy. The ways in which these practices are utilized in power relations allows for a discussion of the ideas of normativity during the Cold War era.