I am currently a higher degree by research student at Federation University in Victoria, Australia.
Title: Representations of PTSD experienced by Australian veterans of the War in Afghanistan in Australian contemporary fiction.
This thesis comprises two parts: an exegesis and a creative artefact examining the literary techniques and devices commonly used in creating verisimilitude in representations of trauma as experienced by Australian military veterans of the war in Afghanistan in Australian contemporary fiction. Caruth argued the dissociative characteristics of trauma mean that traumatic experience can never truly be known or understood as anything other than a recurring failure of memory to invoke facts or ‘truth’ associated with the event thereby rendering ‘truth’ beyond linguistic representation. But is this relevant to fiction writing? Theoretical and conceptual analysis is drawn from practice-based research, critical study, and poetics and narrative writing. The creative artefact experiments with common literary techniques and devices used in creating a linguistic representation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as experienced by a veteran of the War in Afghanistan. The exegesis draws upon literary criticism, social and cultural criticism, and philosophy to analyse the same techniques and devices used by authors of three recently published contemporary trauma fictions representing the same subject.
Expected completion: 2024
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Title: This is Not a Lie: how to represent an archetypal tortured artist character as more than just a cliche.
The ‘tortured artist’ is a stock character in literature and motion picture films. The ‘tortured rock star’ is only the most recent incarnation of the troubled artist catalogue. Tortured artist characters are often portrayed as either extraverted and narcissistic, or introverted and self-loathing. They are aggrieved by their emotions and inner turmoil, they feel alienated and misunderstood, and they are disappointed by those who don’t support them. They are often portrayed as ideating suicide, engaging in substance abuse or self-mutilation, and as suffering from mental illness and/or depression; however, their defining characteristic is that they are in constant torment due to frustrations with their art and/or with other people. Knowing the tropes and conventions associated with this character archetype, is it possible to create a tortured, self-destructive artist character who is more than a cliché and who doesn’t weaken the creative community?
Freud believed creative genius to be a sign of neurosis (particularly bipolar disorder) and that the condition is spawned as a result of early childhood experiences. Recent studies lend validity to this theory. In 1989, Dr Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, conducted the ‘Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament’ study which revealed that bipolar disorder and chronic depression is ten to thirty times more prevalent in artists and creatives than it is in the population at large. Dr James Kaufman, a psychologist and creative researcher at California State University says the idea of the tortured artist has created a kind of dogma and that even though the perception of artistic worth and madness of the mind has bearings in reality, it has become stereotyped and idealised, so much so, that some healthy artists feel compelled to mimic mental illness.
Coalescing autobiography, sociology, creative writing, and academic writing allows me to critically examine the stories, assumptions, values, habits, and emotions that I bring to my research, as well as to the creation of the artefact. The act of deconstructing and re-constructing personal identity and writerly practices immerses me in the knowledge of the research topic as well as the subject of self. Neonarrative method allows me to explore links between lived individual experiences, and cultural, political and social phenomena. Interpretations drawn from supporting stories by published authors add meaning and context to the social and cultural issues at the heart of my narrative. When I began this project, it was my intention to show that there is always a reason for self-destructive behaviour. I chose to do that using the archetypal tortured artist character, specifically a musician. My high-functioning, gay, drug-addicted protagonist is attempting to forge a career in the music industry, an industry that offers huge amounts of stress to produce and perform in return for minimal job security and or long-term pecuniary insurance. He is painfully aware that the music industry is really a marketing industry where image is everything and the maxim is ‘sex sells’.
The archetypal tormented artist character feels alienated and misunderstood, is disappointed by those who don’t support them, engages in substance abuse or self-harm, and suffers from mental illness or depression. And of course, the defining characteristic is that they are in constant torment due to frustrations with their art and/or with other people. My protagonist exhibits all of these characteristics, except for the defining characteristic—he is not frustrated with his art. Rather, he knows that in order to ‘sell sex’ he must hide his true identity. And so he walks the razor’s edge between chasing his dream, a dream he’s had since he was a child, and living a lie.
So, have I created a tortured artist character is more than a cliché and who doesn’t weaken the creative community? Yes, and no. I have indeed created a familiar archetype. However, I do not believe it matters if the character exhibits clichéd traits. I believe that what matters are the circumstances that have led him to this point in his life, and those circumstances do not, I believe, weaken the creative community. Rather, I believe he contributes to the knowledge that we have of the tortured artist archetype.