Joanna Wilson

Thesis title: The Intersection of Antipsychiatric Theory and the Popular Novel in 1960's America: Yates, Kesey, Plath, and Greenberg.

Undergraduate teaching

Undergraduate (pre-honours) tutor in English Literature

Research summary

My thesis investigates the intersections between popular American literature and various antipsychiatric theories advanced during the burgeoning counterculture of the early 1960s. The literary texts I engage with range from those readily connected with the antipsychiatric movement, such as Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962), to those texts critics have thus far overlooked in relation to the politics of mental illness, such as Yates’s Revolutionary Road (1961). Other texts under consideration include Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963) and Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1964). The inclusion of Plath’ and Greenberg’s works allow for reflection upon the uneasy relationship between antipsychiatry and the second-wave feminist movement that developed later in the same decade. My research considers key players in the antipsychiatric field in the USA and the United Kingdom, including R.D. Laing, whose theories of ontological insecurity presented in The Divided Self (1960) will be utilised in my highly original and complex reading of Plath’s work; and Thomas Szasz, whose seminal text The Myth of Mental Illness (1961) will be used as a framework through which to read Kesey’s work (alongside Erving Goffman’s exposé of the total institution, Asylums, also published in 1961). That these texts, both literary and scientific, were all published within three years of each other is fascinating, and suggests a deep insecurity around the increasingly visible crisis of mental health. Ultimately my thesis seeks to unearth the political implications of diagnoses and treatment of mental illness in the American 1960s.