Excess to access: The force of feminine jouissance in the non-sensical language of experimental fiction by contemporary women writers
Oh, Jee Yeon
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This dissertation examines the texts of transatlantic contemporary women writers who work with experimental form to consciously present the absences and failures of the narrative as formative rather than instances of deformity, creating a space that incites active reading as suggested by Felman and Attridge. The texts examine the crisis of linguistic subjectivity female narrators are put through; not only to interrogate the protagonists’ identity but also to lay the reader’s own under such scrutiny. While there are countless numbers of literary works that revolve around how women have been relegated to cultural, social, historical, and literary marginalia, the works discussed in the dissertation break apart the continuity of phallocentric order through diverse linguistic experiments that I denominate as non-sensical language. The term—nonsensical language—encompasses but is not restricted to non-linear narratives, reflexive incomprehension, experimental use of syntaxes, intermediality, intertexuality, and other forms of experimental writing. This style of non-sensical writing aims at breaking out of the socially entrenched parameters of traditional narrative through collapsing fundamental fantasy that maintains society and the individual. It seeks to achieve this means by striving to inscribe in words, the impossible: that which is incomprehensible because it is at the limits of experience. The balance these works strive to maintain between incoherence and expressing the limits of linguistic experience—female pain—is precarious and simultaneously, what incites the ethical reading praxis on the reader’s part. In examining such expressions of feminine jouissance, I mainly use psychoanalytic literary criticism since the discipline lends an effective tool to talk on the question of feminine desire and its linguistic relativity to formation of subjectivity. Furthermore, my argument is that this is not an ethics of reading practice particularly restricted to a feminine subject but adheres to the challenge that the singularity of any subject faces against universalism imposed by the phallic signifier. When such a performative reading occurs, the text becomes an “act-event”; an event of singularity that can only be experienced in the act of reading and maintain its literary, cultural, historical, and temporal fluidity. The works explored in this dissertation incite such performative reading and allows the reader to assume multiple subject positions that are not inscribed by the logics of the phallocentric system. In the first chapter on Kathy Acker and her novel Blood and Guts in High School, I discuss how Acker uses various rhetorical devices that fall under the term of nonsensical language defined in the introduction to enable the ethical reading practice. I then, focus on the importance of fragmentary form and especially the movement between imposition of images, cinematic vision and the written text, using Hutton’s work as a basis where he traces the history of mnemonics from Greece to Freud, in the second chapter on Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and her novel Dictée. In chapter three on Lydia Davis and her novel End of the Story and select short stories, I mainly examine the fragmentary form and the self-reflexivity in the works that lead to empirical incomprehension. Finally, in the last chapter, I investigate how the non-sensical language of carnivalesque laughter and comic subjectivity is deployed in Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus to maintain the constantly fluctuating heroine, Fevvers, an impossibility in the symbolic order of language and culture.