International Conference « Les narrateurs fous /Mad narrators ».
University of Bordeaux 3, 18- 20 October 2012.
The aim of this conference is to examine the phenomenon of mad narrators in fiction. While several conferences have been held recently which have focussed on mad characters: mad scientists, gender and madness, madness and confinement, etc., this conference takes as its theme the idea of the mad narrator. Narratorial madness is part of the wider concept of narrative unreliability, defined by Wayne Booth. Narratorial madness arouses suspicion, creating instability and a discrepancy between the literary voice of the narrator and that of the "underlying author". It thus seems important to investigate what it is that sets madness apart from other types of unreliability, such as a child's viewpoint, intellectual impairment, illiteracy, dysnarration, manipulation or falsehood. The conference will therefore set out to explore the narrative manifestations of insanity and to determine what the "effects of madness" are. It will look at the question of whether there is such a thing as a stylistics of madness, which would imply that there are recurrent markers and codified ways of expressing insanity.
In order to delineate as accurately as possible the notion of narratorial madness, it is important to distinguish between an unambiguous, immediately visible kind of madness, and another kind of madness, a madness that is only hinted at as a possibility within the text. The first kind is expressed in a variety of ways and its symptoms lend themselves to a critical and clinical depiction of those mad narrators who destabilize the link between reality and representation. Obvious examples can be found in Beckett's narratives, which almost always bear the mark of madness, but they are also present in novels such as The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs or One Flew over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. In this context, the link between the narrator's madness and literary genre can also be explored; the Fantastic and the Gothic seem to be two particularly popular "literary asylums". Such texts form a contrast with those where madness is only suspected, occurring as a possibility within the text, worming its way in and creating an intimate crack within a seemingly sane discourse: The Island of Dr Moreau, for example, presents the reader with a witness-narrator, Prendick, who is supposed to be telling the objective story of a mad scientist, but it seems probable that the character's madness is there as a screen to hide another more surreptitious and dissident instance of madness - that of the narrator himself. Numerous texts can thus be read in two ways, with either a "trusting" or a "suspicious" approach: in Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Edgar Allan Poe's « The Tell-Tale Heart » or Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, the veiled hint of an unrestrained madness, that cannot be readily assessed or contained, compels the reader to account for his own interpretations and for what he projects onto the text. Over the years, the critical reactions to these works have been varied, and often conflicting, and a diachronic study of these divergent readings would be fruitful.
However madness can also stem from an intradiegetic narrator: and in this case it would be interesting to examine how and why madness can undermine the premises of the master narrative, by analysing the nature and the range of the discrepancies which are created when the mad narrator is confined within the dominant apparatus, but voices a minority counter-narrative; examples are Mr. Dick in David Coperfield or Euchrid in And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave. Finally, it is worth considering whether madness can take over the narrating voice in third-person narratives and if so, what the resulting textual effects are, and the range of the epistemological disruptions which this generates.
Papers dealing with films are also welcome. The prototype of the figure of the "mad narrator" is to be found in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (Wiene, 1919), where the narrator's insanity invades and distorts the profilmic space-a later example is The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976). Following the conceptual framework established by François Jost and André Gaudreault, discussions might tackle the difference between showing and telling in film, as well as the different levels of narration, from embedded narrators to the "mega-narrator" or "grand imagier" whose presence is often perceptible only through formal deviations from the norm of "conventional" story-telling; such deviations can sometimes be interpreted as symptoms of insanity, undermining the continuity of the narration and, as a result, the stability of the represented world. Speakers may also like to consider whether the expression of narrative madness is exclusively linked to the use of specific stylistic devices (ocularisation, voice-overs, flashbacks), by looking at such films as The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher, 1957), Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964), or Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1973). Certain genres (the thriller, the horror movie) are, perhaps, more likely to contain mad narrators and, consequently, to develop formal experimentation as a means of representing insanity. Guy Maddin's films (Brand Upon the Brain, 2006) seem to support such a view, but other examples can be found in Victor Ferenz's analyses of films like Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000), Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) or American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000).
Papers will deal with English-language literature, comparative literature and English-language films.
300-word abstracts, in French or in English, should be sent, together with a brief CV, to email@example.com by March 31st 2012.
The scientific committee is composed of Romain Girard, Nathalie Jaëck, Clara Mallier, and Arnaud Schmitt.
Reproduced with permission from the European Association of American Studies.