Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Barrett Watten






December 2016

Advisor: Dr. Barrett Watten

Major: English (Literature)

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy

After the Clinic: Gendered Pathology in Modernist Literature demonstrates the ways in which formal innovations of modernism construct a relationship between sexual pathology and modernity. I read a selection of canonical and lesser known modernist works through their investments in overturning hierarchical relationships constructed through the clinical institution, focusing on their depiction of clinical types such as the traumatized male veteran, the hysterical woman, and the often-patriarchal figure of the doctor. Modernist prose and hybrid works by Alfred Döblin, William Carlos Williams, and H.D. depict sexological and psychoanalytic definitions of pathology as gendered products of clinical discourse and the chaotic reality of modern life. These prominent modernist authors draw on their experiences as doctors and patient, respectively, to take sexual pathology out of the limited field of clinical discourse and contextualize it within modern experience. Lesser known or marginal artists Marcia Nardi and the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven confront the hypocrisy of clinical alienation from modern experience through their position as hystericized or “mad” women. Through their works, modernist artists both adopt and challenge the perspectives of Sigmund Freud as well as cultural sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, and Otto Weininger, among others. Modernist novels such as Berlin Alexanderplatz, Palimpsest, and various prose and hybrid works by William Carlos Williams use montage, non-narrative forms, and experimental poetics to challenge how pathology is defined through cultural expectations of normative sexual behaviors and reproduced through medical discourse. They counter the methodology of the clinic, particularly the concentration of power and interpretation in the doctor, and reject the division between the normal and pathological as a framework for representing modern life. Rather than adopt psychoanalytic and sexological perspectives of pathological sexual behaviors, I argue, modernist texts show pathology to be dialectically constructed by medical discourse and the conditions of modernity in which medical discourse is produced. Furthermore, these works draw attention to how the cultural construction of pathology is a gendered one, in which expectations of normative yet divergent sexual functioning in men and women cast aspersions on those whose sexuality lies outside the confines of “normal.” The authors’ reorientation of pathology creates an ethical relationship between doctor and patient, creating space for madness to “speak” out of a clinical context.