Imagination and empathy in the novels of Janet Frame
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis investigates the claims Janet Frame makes for the imagination in her novels and three volumes of autobiography. Proceeding from an outline of the Romantics' conception of the imagination, the thesis moves on to a discussion of the philosopher Immanuel Kant's theories of the imagination, and concludes that there are striking similarities in the arguments that both Kant and Frame make for the imagination. The argument of the thesis is structured along the development of Frame's oeuvre, and is discussed in terms of three broad phases which I have labelled romantic or modernist, apocalyptic postmodernist and finally transcendental postmodernist, and Ihab Hassan's writings on postmodernism have been used to outline the features of this third phase. A major feature of the first two of these phases is the narcissism of those characters that Frame deems imaginative, and the thesis demonstrates the attempts Frame makes to resolve the narcissism of her characters by reconciling them to their role in society, while allowing them to keep their artistic authenticity. The writings of psycho-analyst Heinz Kohut are used in the discussion of narcissism, and they complement Kant's writings on the imagination in their emphasis on the importance of empathy in maintaining worthwhile relationships. It is the emphasis that both these writers and Janet Frame herself place on empathy that motivates the changes she makes in her concept of the imagination, and which allows the possibility of 'immanence', glimpsed in the final phase of her writing to date. The final chapter of this thesis applies these phases and the conclusions drawn from Frame's novels to her autobiography, arguing that each volume of the autobiography represents one of those phases. I draw the conclusion that this is a conscious attempt by Frame to argue against the sometimes negative critical receptions of both her novels and particularly her personal decisions as a writer.