The Waste Book : detaching from the structures of the self

Pierson, Joseph (2020) The Waste Book : detaching from the structures of the self. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis comprises a novel, The Waste Book (TWB), and an accompanying critical thesis, which identifies and interrogates the novel’s motivating philosophical ambitions. TWB follows Katherine Goss through her end-days drinking and into recovery. While in treatment, Katherine’s friends and carers encourage her to identify with a story of herself that will allow her to challenge her old behaviours and be a different person going forward. The thesis considers Katherine’s resistance to therapy as an instinctive detachment from the structures of the self and contextualises Katherine’s detachment from these structures within theory at the intersection of philosophy of mind and cognitive science, with an emphasis on work by Damasio (1995; 2000), Metzinger (2004; 2009; 2014) and Zahavi (2007; 2015). The structural nature of the self is further analysed within a network of literary influences that similarly attempt to attack, deconstruct and detach from the self concept, including novels by Dostoevsky and Lispector, with an emphasis on The Passion According to G.H. 1 I contrast the didactic efforts of these novels, and their protagonists’ fraught psychological struggles with the self, with the way Katherine persistently fixates upon the simple fact that she exists but sees no need to integrate this realisation into broader – narrative – structures. She thereby represents a sense of ‘narrative detachment’, a theory contextualised within narrative conceptions of the self, including frameworks outlined by Strawson (2004, 2007). The thesis further suggests TWB’s minimalist aesthetic exaggerates Katherine’s detachment from the self, while facilitating a commitment to an objective reality as it is, rather than as it is experienced by a subject; a distinction which positions TWB as ideologically opposed to a Modernist emphasis on subjective experience. This commitment is considered alongside Meillassoux’s ‘correlationsim’ (2012; 2014) and the Kantian Idealism to which it responds. Throughout, the critical thesis stresses the ambiguities at the heart of TWB and poses the question, is Katherine detached and therefore free, or simply aimless and lost?

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