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Submitted Literature

Asylum

By Patrick McGrath

Review

“Spider”, one of McGrath’s most well-known narratives, examines madness and memory through the character of Spider, released from long-term institutional care into an exploitative hostel setting, and his unmonitored descent back into psychosis.  Particularly notable is McGrath’s portrayal of emergent paranoia and auditory and olfactory hallucinations, striking in their realism.  “Asylum” focuses on sexual obsession and madness and is set in an institution similar to Broadmoor.

Key Themes:

  • Creativity and Madness
  • Institutional Abuses
  • Morbid Jealousy
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Revealing Reads

Significant Quotes / Pages

3 – “Edgar was one of mine.  I have always been fascinated by the artistic personality, I think because the creative impulse is so vital a quality in psychiatry, certainly is in my own clinical work.  Edgar Stark was already influential in the art world when he came to us, though what we first saw was a confused and very shaky man who shuffled into the hospital like a wounded bear and sat hunched on the bench of hours on end with his head in his hands.  The intrigue me from the start, and once I'd settled him down and got on talking I discovered him to be a forceful individual with an original mind, and also that he was possessed of considerable charm, when he chose to use it.  He and I quickly came to enjoy a warmly combative relationship, which are encouraged, up to a point; I wanted him to feel he had a special relationship with his doctor”

115 – “The artist’s psyche, when it achieves equilibrium, achieves it at such a pitch that any distraction, any disturbance by the brute reality will destroy it in an instant: to make art it is necessary to turn away from life.  Edgar's sensitivity in this regard was intense, to the extent that I thought of him as the pure type of artistic personality.  For him the making of art and the maintenance of sanity had a precise and delicate relationship.  Disturbance in one would create dysfunction breakdown in the other”

 

 

 

208 – “But of course we had to start with Edgar.  Stella had come to us because she stood by and watched her child drown, but the pathology there was straightforward.  The literature on maternal filicide is not large but it is clear: usually an extended suicide, the removal of the child from a situation which the mother finds intolerable, though in Stella's case complicated by the projection onto the child of the intense hostility she felt towards its father; a classic Medea complex.  Recovery involved, first, guidance an initial intense period of suffering whose main feature would be guilt; then acceptance of the trauma; then the integration of the trauma into memory and identity.  Routine psychiatry.”

Reference: Patrick, McGrath. 1996. Asylum. London: Penguin, 1997

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009