Inventing the Self

Clarissa Dalloway and Lowboy

October 15th, 2013 by Jason Tougaw · No Comments

I thought it might be interesting to compare John Wray’s representation of Will’s psychotic experience in Lowboy with that of Septimus Smith, the  shellshocked character in her novel Mrs. Dalloway. This is a famous passage from Woolf’s novel,  in which Clarissa and the shellshocked Septimus Smith–strangers to each other–seem to share a perceptual experience “drumming” through London:

Everything had come to a standstill. The throb of the motor engines sounded like a pulse irregularly drumming through an entire body. The sun became extraordinarily hot because the motor car had stopped outside Mulberry’s shop window; old ladies on the tops of omnibuses spread their black parasols; here a green, here a red parasol opened with a little pop. Mrs. Dalloway, coming to the window with her arms full of sweet peas, looked out with her little pink face pursed in enquiry. Every one looked at the motor car. Septimus looked. Boys on bicycles sprang off. Traffic accumulated. And there the motor car stood, with drawn blinds, and upon them a curious pattern like a tree, Septimus thought, and this gradual drawing together of everything to one centre before his eyes, as if some horror had come almost to the surface and was about to burst into flames, terrified him. The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames. (205)

Compare Woolf’s passage with from this scene from Wray’s novel,  in which Heather Covington (aka Rafa) and Will fail to divest him of his virginity:

Blood was rushing to Lowboy’s head like steam from a boiler as he let himself be dragged into the dark. Heather Covington was a few steps ahead of him, whispering to herself affectionately, moving carefully along the tunnel’s concrete seam. The last feeble light lapped against her. He could just make out her feet in their cellophane leggings, rustling with each step she took, as though she were picking her way through fallen leaves.

The tunnel was wide and straight and the lights of the A took a long time to fade. It got warmer and tamper and soon it go too warm to breathe. The world is inside me, Lowboy said to himself, and I am inside the world. He opened his mouth but no air entered it. (63)

Notice how both Septimus and Will feel the world’s stimulus in their bodies. In both cases, the conflict that drives their psychotic quests involves an embodiment of world crises. They feel their bodies as vehicles for the crises. Following from our conversations and readings in class, it seems these representations of psychosis involve acute forms of the relation between “brain, body, and world” (in Noë’s words) or “organism and object” (in Damasio’s).

Of course, both characters experience the disruption of “basic human needs” and a worsening of symptoms under the care of medical professionals described by McCarthy-Jones.



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