Towards an aesthetics of impotence: Proust, James, Woolf, Duras
Caruso, Jennifer Ann
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This dissertation explores the question of "impossible" generation at its intersection with two forms of productivity: war production and natural generation, in literary and philosophical texts. I use the figure of "impossible relationship" (a love relationship that does not follow a genetic pattern) to help define a form of life that does not follow a model of biological or social vocation. The first chapter of this project describes the conflict between the desire for a vocation and the impossibility of leaving the childhood scene. Benjamin's concept of the "threshold-guardian" (here figured as the courtesan) marks the passage to the writer's life, the possibility of change within experience, and the way to a life free of the familial generative principle. The second chapter of this project introduces the figure of the young woman free of the determining influences of the family. Through a close reading of James' A Portrait of a Lady , I demonstrate the ways in which Isabel Archer's choice of a husband is influenced by the determining principle of her sad father, the influence of a woman of experience, and her gamble on happiness. The third chapter of this project reads Woolf's To the Lighthouse in terms of Adorno's description of the conflict between generations through the idea that children are more realistic than their parents. I discuss maternal ambivalence to natural generation as it conflicts with the artist's vocation. The fourth and fifth chapters of this project, and their attendant "thresholds," describe what remains of human relationship in the post-war time. In my readings of two short stories by Duras, "The War" and "Albert of the Capitals," I show how Duras interrogates the figure of the couple, no longer embedded within the family scene, in order to develop an ethics of love for the body in its most material state.