Hallucinations and mind style in 'Henry’s Demons'

Demjen, Zsofia and Semino, Elena (2014). Hallucinations and mind style in 'Henry’s Demons'. In: Poetics and Linguistics Association (PALA) conference, 16-20 Jul 2014, Maribor, Slovenia.


In this paper we present a linguistic analysis of reported auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) in Henry’s Demons (HD, 2011). The book, co-written by journalist Patrick Cockburn and his son Henry, relates the events surrounding Henry’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. The sections of HD narrated in the first person by Henry were written shortly after his most severe psychotic phase, and have been widely praised for providing an unusually vivid account of his ‘lived experience’, including his experience of voices that can be interpreted as AVHs.

We discuss the linguistic representation of six types of voices: voices of plants (trees, brambles), inanimate things (wind, cars, shoes), real people Henry knows or knew, his own voice, voices of supernatural beings, and disembodied or unattributed voices. We focus on speech presentation, the idiosyncratic use of ‘feel’ (I felt the tree telling me to take off my shoes), and the complexity and style of the verbal content. We show how these aspects of Henry’s language use convey his personal experience of AVHs and enable readers to experience his ‘schizophrenic’ mind style. We therefore begin to account for readers’ overwhelmingly empathetic responses to the book, and for the role it has played in giving the public access to the mental life of someone who suffers from an often stigmatised condition. We also point out aspects of Henry’s experience of voices that are, to the best of our knowledge, undocumented in the schizophrenia literature, exploring in this way the potentials of stylistic analysis.

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