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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Undergraduate Course: Literature, Reading, Mental Health (ENLI10383)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines the relationship between literature and a range of mental health issues. Its primary interest is in the figuration of mental distress'from diagnosable states of acute depression to the implication on mental health of life-events including loneliness and bereavement. The course also tests the correspondence between literature's ability to figure the inner life and the experience of silent reading as itself a feature of that life. During the course, students will examine matters including the spectacle of mental health, the challenges of writing about the inner life, the genres of such writing, the question of mental health therapies, especially psychoanalysis and psychosurgery, and their relation to writing and reading, and questions concerning the aesthetics of mental illness.
Course description The approach throughout will primarily be literary'that is to say will prioritise attentive critical reading of the texts. But reading will also have a conceptual basis in the broad history and theory of mental health. Students will be introduced to a range of psychological models in classes and in directed reading, including those of psychoanalysis, and to debates about psychology v psychiatry, the categorising of mental illness across time, the historically contingent nature of therapies, and of ideas about what the opposite of mental illness might be. We will engage with the politics of psychiatry across the twentieth century, by engaging with a diverse range of literature, from a diversity of writers, and situating therapies within their historical moment.

The association between creativity and madness is ancient. But the entanglements of literature, the experience of reading, and states of 'mental health' are far more diverse. This course examines a range of literary writing to explore a variety of mental conditions and topics of mental health as they have appeared in writing across the twentieth century: from murderous insanity to depression; from racial categories of madness to personal and generational traumas, from life events including loneliness and bereavement to a figurative sense of history itself as a narrative of madness. The module is particularly interested in the languages of interiority; in narratives of 'redemption' and 'recovery', and how these draw on established literary and cultural tropes; in the nature of literary forms as they are driven by particular conceptions of mental health/life. Paying particular attention to the sustained tragi-comedy of writing about mental health, we will think carefully about the ethics of representation, the moral problems of talking about the figuring of mental health, as we will consider the idea of reading and mental activity itself.

The textual construction of mental health'how a reader might understand the dividing line between healthy and unhealthy'will be explored in a course that examines the peculiarly intimate relationship between narrative, metaphor, and the mind; between mental health and what can be said in words about it; between mental health, the strange intimacies of reading, and the exceptional territory of literature.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Literary Studies 1A (ENLI08020) AND Literary Studies 1B (ENLI08021) OR English Literature 1 (ENLI08001) OR Scottish Literature 1 (ENLI08016) AND Literary Studies 2A: English Literature in the World, 1380-1788 (ENLI08024) AND Literary Studies 2B: English Literature in the World, post-1789 (ENLI08025) OR Scottish Literature 2A (ENLI08022) AND Scottish Literature 2B (ENLI08023) OR English Literature 2 (ENLI08003) OR Scottish Literature 2 (ENLI08004)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Additional Costs Essential Course Texts.
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Construct original, clear and coherent arguments about literature's figuring of a range of mental health topics and narratives
  2. Analyse literary texts using recognised literary critical methodologies to substantiate and illustrate those arguments
  3. Extrapolate, evaluate and assess ideas from a range of non-literary sources in order to bring them to bear on their analyses of mental health in literature
  4. Evaluate the ways in which conceptions of mental health as represented in literary writing have changed and/or remained constant from the early-modern period to the present
  5. Present orally the results of research undertaken individually and as part of a small group, respond judiciously to such research undertaken by others, and critically evaluate the importance of such material for an understanding of the chief themes of the course
Reading List
Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison (1952)
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1963)
Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys (1966)
The Elected Member, Bernice Rubens (1969)
Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko (1977)
Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen (1993)
The Fat Lady Sings, Jacqueline Roy (2000)
Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Claudia Rankine (2004)
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills As an outcome of having studied this course, students will benefit from having developed a range of personal and professional skills commensurate with the range of SCQF Level 10 characteristics:
Knowledge and Understanding: students will have had the opportunity to demonstrate their detailed knowledge of the specialised field of literary depictions of mental health as well as their critical understanding of a range of the principal concepts of literary analysis in relation to the course material;
Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: in their work for class discussion, presentations and formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these theories and concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material;
Generic Cognitive Skills: in completing assessed essays and class presentations, students will have practiced identifying, defining, conceptualising and analysing complex problems and issues germane to the discipline;
Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists;
Autonomy and Working with Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
Additional Class Delivery Information one 2-hour seminar per week for 10 weeks; plus one autonomous learning group per week - at time to be arranged
KeywordsLiterature,reading,mental health,depression,loneliness,bereavement,mental illness
Course organiserDr Marie Allitt
Course secretaryMiss Hope Hamilton
Tel: (0131 6)50 4167
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