Chronotopes of madness and recovery
A challenge to narrative linearity
Narrative methods have been extensively used to study the subjective experience of physical illness with only a handful of studies looking at narratives of madness. However, much of the research on both physical and mental illness has focused on isolating specific narrative structures and thematic categorisation. As traditional temporally linear forms of narrative are often not available to those experiencing psychological distress, there is the risk that such individuals become narratively dispossessed (Baldwin, 2005). This paper challenges the usefulness of a traditionally linear narrative approach in first-person accounts of madness, by presenting an analysis of the narrative of Mary Barnes, a resident in R.D. Laing’s Kingsley Hall in the late 1960s. In order to go beyond the confines of linear narrative research and the textual confines of discourse analysis, Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope is used to examine the different ways in which time and space are represented in the narrative, revealing not only the temporal complexities of the narrative structure, but also, through Bakhtin’s concept of unfinalizability, the meaning of the embodied phenomenological dimension of lived experience. I shall argue that by engaging with more ancient chronotopes in the throes of madness and rejecting modernist, linear conceptions of timespace, Barnes loses her finalised identity, becoming other, and, as such, is able to construct meaning out of chaos and distress, which critically impacts on her experience of recovery. Using Bakhtinian concepts as analytic tools has implications for the way researchers engage with, and construct meaning from, narratives of both physical and psychological trauma, which in turn highlights the complex, multi-dimensional nature of recovery.