Representing the double bind: Doubleness and schizophrenia in the works of Annie Ernaux, Agota Kristof, and Farida Belghoul

Date of Completion

January 1998


Literature, Romance




In this dissertation, I examine how, in the works of the French-speaking contemporary women writers Annie Ernaux, Agota Kristof and Farida Belghoul, notions of doubleness and/or schizophrenia represent at the literary level the contradictory pressures or double bind that these writers have experienced at some point in their lives. As a child, Ernaux was caught in a no-win situation: her parents wanted her to succeed and progress socially while also remaining close to them, and her teachers wanted her to respect her parents while constantly reminding her how improper their behavior and language were. The double bind experienced by Kristof is of a different nature and twofold: she lived the double bind of the exiled: to survive, she had to leave totalitarian Hungary, but far away from her country and family, she felt she could not live; she also shared with her fellow-countrymen the double bind imposed by the authorities, based on lies which were presented as truth. As a Beur, Belghoul's situation is more similar to Ernaux's: she is caught between her parents and her teachers, between Moslem and Algerian traditions and French society and its secular values. Following to a certain extent the psychiatrist and behavioral scientist Paul Watzlawick, I show that, through writing, these authors found a way out of the frame of their double bind, and succeeded in reorienting--a term that I prefer to Watzlawick's reframing, since it does not imply entering a new frame--their past experience. I also claim that their use of doubleness and/or schizophrenia has two purposes: (1) it conveys the pain of their situation and (2) it is part of a deterritorializing process, a line of flight. Both elements contribute to a minor literature, as defined by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and to the postmodern dimension of the texts. From their past in-between situation, which they still cultivate in their writings but to which they ascribe a new orientation, these writers paved a way toward an autonomous discursive space, a renewed identity. ^