Interdisciplinary PhD

Interdisciplinary PhD: Personal Statement of Intent

The sweltering experience of my 2009 onset of manic psychosis came with one massive shock—even before I was to ever encounter the immense pressures of international fieldwork—that of the sobering gift of spiritual emergence. I steadily lost contact with reality that year, delving deeper into non-normative, or alternative, patterns of consciousness. I disconnected from society, as my inner experiences and wellbeing moved to the periphery of the clinical world, which sought to render my personhood into a docile non-identity with the erasure of both voice and story. I did not let these bio-political aggressions hinder me from progressing as either a human being or a burgeoning poet as these breaks from reality taught me much by letting counter-images of the world (created from the insights within my own episodes of illness) augment and critique how I processed culture down to the very singularity of consciousness. The architecture of my brain re-integrated these firings into a cognitive interface, the deliberate partitioning of consciousness, which rooted itself within my receptive mind (see Throop and Laughlin 2005). These actions restructured and filtered my perceptual fields and experiences into a narrative-focused palimpsest of inner simulation(s), each of which worked to overlap, animate, and re-direct pre-existing expressions of reality for me. My (internal) ethos was rendered as otherwise/otherworldly in these states. I thereafter latched onto creativity and any expressive modality to come to terms with the range and depth of human experience that I now had access to; my poetry and writing rapidly flourished and intensified, maturing from the deep wisdom granted to me by persevering through exquisite suffering. I became willfully avaricious for art and its innovative ability to supersede the ‘bridgework’ of language (Voloshinov 1986). I finally found a point of entry to start describing the ineffable nature of psychosis and its fragmentation and coalescence of my own psyche to create co-existing frameworks of consciousness within my single subjective-embodied self: all of which laboured to instill within me a living mythology (see Leenhardt 1979). After growing alongside this knowledge and successfully managing my mental health, I want to use my position as an ethnographic poet to track this singularity, or total phenomenon of consciousness, in others and demonstrate the quintessential effectiveness of creative and inter-arts practices in representing first-hand experiences of psychosis.

In 2014, I completed my MA in anthropology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO). My thesis, Narrative, Myth and Cultural Resource Management in Wadeye, Northern Territory, Australia: A Preliminary Study, aptly addresses Indigenous Australian storytelling, cultural resource management, and how these stories connect to “Dreaming” sites and local culture. To keep with this past focus on story, I want to channel my doctoral program in anthropology at UVIC to discover how creative writing and an integrative arts practice can intelligently illustrate how psychosis contributes to experiences of human culture by re-imagining an individual’s life(world) through narrative. I contend, from my own education and personal experience, that psychosis can transformatively shape someone’s worldview and culture (see Romme and Escher 2012; Martens 2010). I have an acute understanding of psychosis as a narrative and an agent of mythogenesis, that very creative gift of humanity to fashion, think-within, and experience symbolic worlds through myth, from Dr. Naomi McPherson’s supervision of my own past MA research and fieldwork (Slotkin 2000: 7-8). My book of poetry, Nuova, documents my early struggles with psychosis and the narrative and artistic framework that describes and manifests my spiritual awakening. This skill set is key as I want to include a multimedia comics-poetry narrative within my dissertation to genuinely capture the moment and phenomenology of psychosis. Also, I have a graphic novel series, Samæl, which I am launching its pilot issue by next year, and at its core, it deals with both myth and human psychology through my re-adaptation of the Greek daemon mythos. I have furthermore made an active effort to get involved with the local mental health community. I volunteer at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the BC Schizophrenic Society (BCSS) in Kelowna, and I am waitlisted for the earliest round of training in 2017 to become a certified peer-support mentor for Interior Health and its Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Team. I am also developing an ongoing peer-support group for university students affected by mental health via the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s Health and Wellness Department. My thesis and fieldwork likely to be based locally on Vancouver Island will be executed and finalized as an “insider ethnography,” especially given my own experiences with psychosis and bipolar mood disorder. Thus, I have the sensitivity, fieldwork training, and fortitude as a comics-poetry writer to possess the embodied insight into myth-making to craft a thesis and piece like Thornton’s HOAX Psychosis Blues (2014). I have submitted an application and a program of study entitled, Madness, Mythogenesis, and the Human Mind: An Embodied Ethnography of Psychosis and Its Mythic Patterns that Inspire Alternative Forms of Consciousness, to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to help fund this doctoral program.

My draw towards UVIC’s anthropology program stems from their strong visual, medical, and symbolic expertise—situated within vibrant arts communities. At this institute, I will have opportunities to work with stellar-class academics within my niche areas. Dr. Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier who is a UVIC visual anthropologist interested in creative practices is supportive of this research. She is the co-curator of the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography, an inter-arts cyber-collective pushing the disciplinary boundaries of ethnography; and she is exploring the use of comics/graphic novels within her own research and pedagogy. I am excited to apply her intercultural/intertextual approaches to my work with inter-arts, comics-poetry narratives, and I am eagerly looking forward to her expert insights when working with creatively adept communities and capturing their stories (see Boudreault-Fournier 2008; 2009). Along with her supervision, UVIC offers graduate courses in symbolic, medical, and visual anthropology (ANTH 510E, 510H, and 671). I will be well trained to undertake this array of interdisciplinary research. I would also appreciate the guidance of Dr. Lisa Mitchell as a co-supervisor given her supervision of projects dealing with poetry, medical anthropology, and embodiment (see 2006; 2008). I am equally interested in UVIC’s Department of Writing due to Lee Henderson’s desire to work with me on the creative non-fiction and the graphic novel adaptation of my doctoral research. He is a student of comics and graphic novels, posts about them on his website, and he has written a book novelizing a micro-history within a comics’ community, The Road Narrows as You Go (2014). I will also be able to collaborate with local UVIC Canada Research Chairs like Dr. Ostry (the Social Determinants of Community Health) on overlapping areas of inquiry.

With my doctorate, I want to break semantic barriers and humanize the face of psychosis, to sway literary, anthropological, and clinical canon. One of the fundamental impacts of this dissertation therefore will be to culturally destigmatize mental illness—by opening a constructive space for people’s voices to creatively contribute to the cultural mosaic of Canada and our global world. I will publish research widely across disciplinary journals and boundaries, and I want to later revise the PhD dissertation and comics-poetry narrative into a separate book project. I also plan to establish research affiliations with the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the CMHA, and other humanitarian organizations such as the Montréal-based Les Impatients, which itself offers creative workshops for people with mental health problems and houses a collection of over 1,500 works. So, in fostering a career as a mythographer, I will herein further my talents as a creative writer, field poet, and prospective anthropology professor who also practices as a registered art therapist. I contend that this training will make me an ideal postdoc candidate in revitalizing the field of myth studies. Thank you for your time and consideration!

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