"When you go mad... somebody else comes in": The archival hysteric in twentieth-century literature set in nineteenth-century Ontario

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This project reconsiders nineteenth-century hysteria and recovery in selected works of 1990s historiographical Canadian fiction. Using a material feminist perspective, I develop an understanding of the "archival hysteric": a figure whose permeable mindbody reacts in eccentric ways to her environment. The material mindbody becomes a physiological archive of intersubjective interactions, social expectations, and past traumas. Expanding the concept of the archive to include the human subject, the family home, and the landscape, the fictions provide models for personal and social change. ^ Chapter One explores the eccentric nature of the female body as viewed in nineteenth-century documents and in Alice Munro's "Meneseteung." This chapter focuses its analysis on the hysteric's eccentric mindbody as the site of partial recovery. I propose that moving from hysteria to sanity involves a transformation to health of the mindbody that can occur through the ethical relationship and an acknowledgement of the permeable nature of intersubjective boundaries. The nineteenth-century concept of female flow is replaced by a model of viscous porosity. ^ Chapter Two explores how the archive functions as a metaphor for hysterical subjectivity. Following Kelly Oliver's theory of witnessing, I show how the act of shared witnessing reveals the permeable boundaries between researcher and research subject. Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace provides a case study of an archival hysteric that illustrates the ways in which shared witnessing can lead to both illness (reactivity) and health (response-ability). ^ Chapter Three explores Away, in which Jane Urquhart mobilizes the figure of the love-mad hysteric in postcolonial and environmental contexts. The archival hysteric here represents permeability not only between human subjects, but also between human and non-human subjects. The archival hysteric illustrates human subjects' unfixed positions in the world: relying upon the binary of mental health and illness, diagnostic labels therefore misrepresent the complexity of states of being. ^

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