Title of Oral/Poster Presentation

Philip Pullman and the Specter of Depression

Presenter Information

Ethan TrunnellFollow

Class

Article

Graduation Year

2017

College

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department

English Department

Faculty Mentor

Christine Cooper-Rompato

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract

In this paper, I examine the way that Philip Pullman uses fantastical creations to examine mental health issues. My focus is on Pullman’s textual argument that depression functions as an inhibitor to the central purpose of human life—the creation and magnification of “consciousness” or “dust.” He has a somewhat roundabout strategy for this analysis, given his humanist and atheistic worldview. In an interview in 2011 whose focus was “the meaning of life” Pullman explained why he uses fantastical creatures and concepts in his writing that he doesn’t himself believe in: “One way of explaining [it] seemed to me to compare it to what mathematicians do with entities that can’t exist. There’s no such thing as the square root of -1, but if you include it in your calculations you can discover all sorts of interesting things” (BritishHumanists). This is exactly what Pullman does with the daemon and the specter. Though they don’t exist in the world we’re familiar with, when they’re examined in a world that bears many similarities to ours, it allows him to examine real issues with nonreal subjects. Humans have a triplicate nature in the books. Every person, regardless of the world they come from, has a spirit/ghost, a daemon, and a body. The interplay of the three creates a triangle. At each point is one of these three entities, and the personality and actions stem from the way they interact. To separate any from the other two is to make the daemon vanish and the bodiless spirit to descend to the world of death. That separation induces a condition which is very similar to major depressive disorder because it induces a state of total apathy towards feeling and living. This paper examines the inhibition through close readings and multidisciplinary research.

Location

Room 101

Start Date

4-13-2017 9:00 AM

End Date

4-13-2017 10:15 AM

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Apr 13th, 9:00 AM Apr 13th, 10:15 AM

Philip Pullman and the Specter of Depression

Room 101

In this paper, I examine the way that Philip Pullman uses fantastical creations to examine mental health issues. My focus is on Pullman’s textual argument that depression functions as an inhibitor to the central purpose of human life—the creation and magnification of “consciousness” or “dust.” He has a somewhat roundabout strategy for this analysis, given his humanist and atheistic worldview. In an interview in 2011 whose focus was “the meaning of life” Pullman explained why he uses fantastical creatures and concepts in his writing that he doesn’t himself believe in: “One way of explaining [it] seemed to me to compare it to what mathematicians do with entities that can’t exist. There’s no such thing as the square root of -1, but if you include it in your calculations you can discover all sorts of interesting things” (BritishHumanists). This is exactly what Pullman does with the daemon and the specter. Though they don’t exist in the world we’re familiar with, when they’re examined in a world that bears many similarities to ours, it allows him to examine real issues with nonreal subjects. Humans have a triplicate nature in the books. Every person, regardless of the world they come from, has a spirit/ghost, a daemon, and a body. The interplay of the three creates a triangle. At each point is one of these three entities, and the personality and actions stem from the way they interact. To separate any from the other two is to make the daemon vanish and the bodiless spirit to descend to the world of death. That separation induces a condition which is very similar to major depressive disorder because it induces a state of total apathy towards feeling and living. This paper examines the inhibition through close readings and multidisciplinary research.