The novel as therapy: Ministrations of voice in an age of risk

by Patricia Waugh

14 Apr 2016
Digital Object Identifier

Full text posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 3, pp. 35-67.

Abstract: Examining relations between 'therapy culture' and the 'risk society', this essay suggests that the novel developed to offer a powerful workout for the kinds of socio-cognitive capacities and gratifications required by the complex and 'emergent' cultures of modernity: recursive skills of mindreading and mental time-travelling, the negotiation of plural ontologies. Its development of a unique mode of 'double voicing' allowed readers to situate the interior life in a complex and dynamic relation to the social. Reading novels challenges the default, making 'safe', capacities of the probablistic or Bayesian brain. In its self-referentiality and invention of the idea of fictionality, the novel provides an education into awareness of the limits of models and their dangerous fetishisation. The novel therefore answers Wittgenstein's search for a discourse that might provide a therapy for errors in thinking, embedded deep in structural and analogical functions of language and especially those perceptual metaphors of vision that carry the epistemological beliefs that looking in is the route to self-transparency.

Keywords: therapy, voice, the novel, 'risk society', recursive, mindreading, Bayesian brain, self-referentiality, fictionality, Wittgenstein.

Lecture on the Novel in English, read 15 May 2014 (video recording)

Text printed 2016 in British Academy Lectures 2014-15

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