Much Madness; or, A World Within a World.

Here's a conundrum for all you writers - and readers - out there (keep reading, I'll get to the point eventually):

In the 1950's, the psychologist Erving Goffman developed the concept of the Total Institution.  This, he defined as:

‘A place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time together, lead an
enclosed, formally administered round of life.’

(Goffman, 1961)

It was the heyday of the 'mental asylum' and of the boarding school, even the convent.  Care in the community wasn't even embryonic and criminals were far more likely to be incarcerated than paroled. Goffman was talking about actual bricks-and-mortar buildings where people on the inside only had contact with people on the outside through a strict system of gatekeeping.  These places were, then, worlds within worlds; they were enclosed.

Now, I'm fast-forwarding through lots of theoretical and philosophical debate (I find this fascinating, but I might just be weird), and - you'll have to trust me on this - somewhat redefining Goffman's concept. Let me ask you writers and readers still with me, to take a gigantic leap of faith and think about those words: totality, enclosure, gatekeeping... and consider:-

Is possible to describe a fictional world, created by a novelist, as a Total Institution?  Such a world and its characters are enclosed in the writer's imagination, and that writer is the gatekeeper between the fictional world (the story) and the real world (the reader).

Is the basis of fiction a world within a world, or am I simply locked in my own little world wherein lies much madness?  Any thoughts appreciated, especially since the critical text of my PhD is in here.  Somewhere!

I'm plodding on regardless. banking on the words of Emily Dickinson:

'Much Madness is divinest Sense -
To a discerning Eye - '
 
 
 
Note From Nicaragua
Edinburgh Fringe, Toddler-Style

Comments 2

 
Guest - Bryan on Friday, 02 August 2013 04:52

Hi Anne,Interesting thought and it feels right to me. Especially when I consider how guilty I felt when talking about my book to other people. I'd let my book down through poor gate-stewardship - the characters felt watered down somehow through interaction with the outside world.Also my book (the institution) certainly flourished best when my gate-stewardship was at it's tightest. Crack on!Bryan

Hi Anne,Interesting thought and it feels right to me. Especially when I consider how guilty I felt when talking about my book to other people. I'd let my book down through poor gate-stewardship - the characters felt watered down somehow through interaction with the outside world.Also my book (the institution) certainly flourished best when my gate-stewardship was at it's tightest. Crack on!Bryan
Guest - katie200 on Thursday, 01 August 2013 23:47

Hi Anne Now that is a very interesting question and I think it can be... Because writer are the keeper of the stories that come to them. And if you think about it we all (might just be me here) hear fictional worlds and character telling us their stories even if we don't write them down... I guess its like being between two world the one we physically stand in and the one no-one else except the character that live there can see.. I hope you are well and your writing is going good. Take care. Katie.

Hi Anne Now that is a very interesting question and I think it can be... Because writer are the keeper of the stories that come to them. And if you think about it we all (might just be me here) hear fictional worlds and character telling us their stories even if we don't write them down... I guess its like being between two world the one we physically stand in and the one no-one else except the character that live there can see.. I hope you are well and your writing is going good. Take care. Katie.
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