Wednesday 20 May 2020

Dorothy Lehane, "Bettbehandlung"

Dorothy Lehane is the author of four poetry publications: Bettbehandlung, (Muscaliet Press, 2018), Umwelt (Leafe Press, 2016), Ephemeris (Nine Arches Press, 2014), and Places of Articulation (dancing girl press 2014). She is currently engaging in a study exploring questions surrounding the social, ethical and perceptual implications of communicating the aberrant body in poetic practice. She is the founding editor of Litmus, and is interested in the tensions, challenges and outcomes arising from interdisciplinary engagement. She has read her work to audiences at Université Sorbonne, Ivy Writers, Paris, the Science Museum, the Wellcome Trust, the Barbican, the Roundhouse, BBC Radio Kent, and the Union Chapel, and has contributed on improvised collaborations, notably with synthesizer, Matthew Bourne. Recent poetry and reviews appear in Westerly Magazine, Glasfryn Project and Modern Philology.  She is the founding editor of Litmus Publishing and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Kent. Poems from her new sequence, House Girl, can be found here.

About Bettbehandlung

By Dorothy Lehane

My latest chapbook, Bettbehandlung, is a feminist re-visioning of historical and medical treatments of ‘hysterical’ female subjects and performative spaces of illness. Constructed out of my interest in issues of dependency and bodily propriety, the sequence marked a turning away from my own chronic autoimmune illness to encompass the historical treatment of women with chronic and acute mental illness. Bettbehandlung, then, is an elegiac love poem that entangles my critical research into the historical treatment of hysterical women with my chronic illness and personal life, allowing me to document my experience of witnessing my sister’s decline into mental illness. The creative practice became a way for me to cope with the depth and breadth of the loss of her mental health, as well as formulate some critical thinking on the public and private performance of illness. My aim was to look at these psychic and political terrains and unravel the embodied ramifications of what it means to use language to write about sickness and sick performances. The sequence engendered a set of questions: questions surrounding violence toward the marginalised, and the subjugated. Questions that connected with historical acts of diagnoses, issues of witnessing, and theories of agency within performance spaces.  I used the critical research surrounding the Salpêtrière hospital, and performance theory as a basis for this sequence. I appropriated the critical research surrounding the Salpêtrière hospital, and experimented with collage, scraps of registers and sources that collide and become messy or blur meaning in new contexts. 

The sequence entangles personal elements and testimonies from vulnerable subjects, as well as quotations from a number of critical and historical sources. It doesn’t follow a simple and sequential narrative. Instead, it uses multi-vocal contributions that prevent it from drawing too much on any one particular narrative. My own experience is mixed in: of being a chronically sick person; the somatic, psychological experience of living in the contemporary world modelled for the healthy sovereign body; of being related to someone mentally ill; of experiencing grief during my formative years. By admitting to a personal investment—as I write in the sequence “I am bound to the woman suffering” — I began to experience fantasies of protection and imagine what social love might look like. It enabled me to further interrogate the invisible vulnerability of sick subjects, and develop some thinking on what it means to be a “contingent” person in the world.

Bettbehandlung is available from Muscaliet Press here. Featured below are two poems from the collection. 


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