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  • Representing and Expressing States of Mind:“The Labyrinth of Another’s Being”
  • Allan Ingram (bio), Anita O’Connell (bio), and Leigh Wetherall-Dickson (bio)

It is W. B. Yeats, in his poem “The Tower,” who speaks of the “Plunge … Into the labyrinth of another’s being” (111, 113). In his case, Yeats attempts to call up from the grave the fictitious figure he had himself created as a mouthpiece for some of his earlier work, Owen “Red” Hanrahan, the bardic, womanizing schoolteacher. He summons him, in the incantatory mode of “The Tower”:

Old lecher with a love on every wind,Bring up out of that deep considering mindAll that you have discovered in the grave,For it is certain that you haveReckoned up every unforeknown, unseeingPlunge, lured by a softening eye,Or by a touch or a sigh,Into the labyrinth of another’s being.


The point, in Yeats’s poem, is to ask: “Does the imagination dwell the most / Upon a woman won or woman lost,” which comes down to a more trivial enterprise than the build-up of promises (114–15). But that build-up is nevertheless substantial, involving a call to beyond the grave, requesting the assumed spiritual insights available to the dead, and resorting to a character who never in fact lived at all, as though only a being derived from pure imagination—imagination fortified, as with Hanrahan, by received traditions, spiritual and cultural, formal and folk—will be capable of revealing the kind of wisdom sought by Yeats: the secrets of another’s being.

As this example implies, though, there are many modes of mind—from the fictional to the autobiographical, the spiritual, the extreme, from the conscious to the unconscious, the deluded, and the self-satisfied—and equally many modes of attempting to represent or to express them. The present volume alone includes examples from diaries, dream visions, and the hallucinatory, from psychiatric case studies, even from attempts to [End Page v] control the wrong sort of immigrant mentality from entering into Australia and New Zealand, as well as the many kinds of fictional states of mind, from first person narratives to different attempts with differently nuanced third person accounts. When Samuel Johnson advised James Boswell about keeping a diary, he declared that the important point was to record the state of one’s mind (Boswell, Boswell for the Defence 182). Johnson’s comment, though, very much begs the question of how that can be done. Johnson himself was too intelligent and too suffering a writer not to have given the issue substantial thought, though his own diaries were apparently destroyed either by his own hand shortly before his death or by his executors. For his part, Boswell, who experienced his own share of suffering from depression—or melancholy, or hypochondria—speculated: “Could I extract the hypochondria from my mind and deposit it in my journal, writing down would be very valuable” (Boswell: The Ominous Years 240). We clearly need to add self-therapy, or its possibility, as yet one more reason for attempting to express a state of mind. The subject to be represented might turn out to be just as much of a fiction as a creation by Richardson, or Godwin, or Dickens, but its purpose will not necessarily be to be accurate, but rather to be helpful, a step on the road to whatever might constitute recovery.

Authenticity, certainly, can be a major issue in representing and expressing states of mind: but authenticity to what? Authenticity can make severe demands in terms of absolute factual truthfulness, and the requirement never to deviate from or elaborate on what strictly and incontrovertibly was the case. But in terms of states of mind, we are frequently dealing with something more amorphous than that which can be pinpointed with exactitude—let alone expressed with complete justice. When Boswell, again, writes in his journal of his remorse, following one of his many periods of slippage from his “moral principle as to chastity,” that “This is an exact state of my mind at the time. It shocks me to review it,” he is, of course, being self-attentively optimistic (Boswell: The Ominous...


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