Signifying Pain

Constructing and Healing the Self through Writing

By Judith Harris

Subjects: Psychological Approaches To Literature
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791456842, 320 pages, March 2003
Hardcover : 9780791456835, 320 pages, March 2003

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Table of contents


Part I. Speaking Pain: Women, Psychoanalysis, and Writing

1. The Healing Effects of Writing about Pain: Literature and Psychoanalysis

2. Violating the Sanctuary/Asylum: Freudian Treatment of Hysteria in "Dora" and "The Yellow Wallpaper"

3. Breaking the Code of Silence: Ideology and Women's Confessional Poetry

4. Fathering Daughters: Oedipal Rage and Aggression in Women's Writing

Part II. Soul-making: Conflict and the Construction of Identity

5. Carving the Mask of Language: Self and Otherness in Dramatic Monologues

6. Giotto's Invisible Sheep: Lacanian Mirroring and Modeling in Walcott's Another Life

7. Rescuing Psyche: Keats's Containment of the Beloved but Fading Woman in the "Ode to Psyche"

8. God Don't Like Ugly: Michael S. Harper's Soul-Making Music

9. Kenyon's Melancholic Vision in "Let Evening Come"

Part III. Healing Pain: Acts of Therapeutic Writing

10. Using the Psychoanalytic Process in Creative Writing Classes

11. Rewriting the Subject: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Creative Writing and Composition Pedagogy

12. "To Bedlam and Almost All the Way Back": The Image and Function of the Institution in Confessional Poetry

13. Asylum: A Personal Essay

14. Signifying Pain: Recovery and Beyond


Explores the therapeutic uses and effects of writing in a post-Freudian age.


A deeply personal yet universal work, Signifying Pain applies the principles of therapeutic writing to such painful life experiences as mental illness, suicide, racism, domestic abuse, and even genocide. Probing deep into the bedrock of literary imagination, Judith Harris traces the odyssey of a diverse group of writers—John Keats, Derek Walcott, Jane Kenyon, Michael S. Harper, Robert Lowell, and Ai, as well as student writers—who have used their writing to work through and past such personal traumas. Drawing on her own experience as a poet and teacher, Harris shows how the process can be long and arduous, but that when exercised within the spirit of one's own personal compassion, the results can be limitless. Signifying Pain will be of interest not only to teachers of creative and therapeutic writing, but also to those with a critical interest in autobiographical or confessional writing more generally.

Judith Harris is Assistant Professor of English at George Washington University. She is the author of Atonement: Poems.