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Language Subject Ideology: The Politics of Representation in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Djuna Barnes's Nightwood and Gertrude Stein's Lucy Church Amiably

Ragnerstam, Petra LU (2003)
Abstract
This dissertation investigates the relation between aesthetics and politics by interpreting three experimental novels by Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein. By theorizing the relation between language, subject, voice and ideology it questions the autonomous subject as a ground for political action and criticality. This is done by challenging language as a vehicle for individual expression. The starting point is consequently that writing or language does not originate in an individual subject but is produced by a process of difference and deferral without origin. This implies a dismantling of the subject and its ability to use language for its own purposes. Rather, the subject uses language by a constant citation of what has... (More)
This dissertation investigates the relation between aesthetics and politics by interpreting three experimental novels by Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein. By theorizing the relation between language, subject, voice and ideology it questions the autonomous subject as a ground for political action and criticality. This is done by challenging language as a vehicle for individual expression. The starting point is consequently that writing or language does not originate in an individual subject but is produced by a process of difference and deferral without origin. This implies a dismantling of the subject and its ability to use language for its own purposes. Rather, the subject uses language by a constant citation of what has always-already been written. The presence of voice is therefore not a guarantee for intentional meaning or an autonomous consciousness. Since language is not produced by an individual, I furthermore argue that it is a cultural and discursive institution. This means that language is complicit in the perpetuation of hegemonic structures, something which problematizes literature’s critical function. The three novels interpreted in this study, To the Lighthouse, Nightwood and Lucy Church Amiably, were chosen because they use experimental language in ways which demonstrate that language is a system of signification that functions within ideological and discursive formations. Nonetheless, they all try to find ways to use language as a space for criticism. The first chapter deals with To the Lighthouse and the ways in which it uses Free Indirect Discourse to problematize voice as an expression of individual intention. This is articulated as a worry which is transposed to the characters in the novel, who experience a lack of control of the language they use. With this move To the Lighthouse suggests that language is a discursive practice which controls subjects rather than the other way around. This means that there is little space for individual agency in and by language, which seems devastating for criticality. The second chapter focuses on Nightwood and its vision of a space beyond discursive practices. By contrasting a form of narration which is grounded in a belief in the ability of language to communicate reality with a narration that radically questions this idea, a narrative aporia is produced, which reaches towards what cannot be spoken. This aporia is formulated as ultimately beyond language, as silence, which is framed as feminine. This space functions as a subject position outside linguistic, discursive practices, as a counterdiscourse. The third chapter deals with Lucy Church Amiably, which most radically questions commonsensical ideas concerning language’s communicative function. By being completely nonsensical the novel suggests that the materiality of the signifier is the only reality that can be communicated through language. This reality is not informed by rational, ideological discourses, but is produced by the infinite possibilities inherent in language itself. The last chapter is a concluding discussion that investigates the political implications of the theoretical positions reached in the novels. It concludes with a discussion on the possibilities for political action and criticality in society today. (Less)
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author
opponent
  • Prof. Gibson, Andrew, University of London
organization
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
keywords
literature criticism, General and comparative literature, politics, aesthetics, feminism, language & philosophy, literary theory, critical theory, realism, postmodernism, modernism, 20th century novels, Gertrude Stein, Lucy Church Amiably, Djuna Barnes, Nightwood, Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Allmän och jämförande litteratur, litteraturkritik, litteraturteori, English language and literature, Engelska (språk och litteratur)
pages
298 pages
publisher
English Studies
defense location
Room 239 at the Department of English
defense date
2003-06-07 10:15
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
4dc026ea-fc08-4ecf-a6d6-cbad8809497c (old id 21278)
date added to LUP
2007-05-28 14:34:19
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:45:04
@phdthesis{4dc026ea-fc08-4ecf-a6d6-cbad8809497c,
  abstract     = {This dissertation investigates the relation between aesthetics and politics by interpreting three experimental novels by Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes and Gertrude Stein. By theorizing the relation between language, subject, voice and ideology it questions the autonomous subject as a ground for political action and criticality. This is done by challenging language as a vehicle for individual expression. The starting point is consequently that writing or language does not originate in an individual subject but is produced by a process of difference and deferral without origin. This implies a dismantling of the subject and its ability to use language for its own purposes. Rather, the subject uses language by a constant citation of what has always-already been written. The presence of voice is therefore not a guarantee for intentional meaning or an autonomous consciousness. Since language is not produced by an individual, I furthermore argue that it is a cultural and discursive institution. This means that language is complicit in the perpetuation of hegemonic structures, something which problematizes literature’s critical function. The three novels interpreted in this study, To the Lighthouse, Nightwood and Lucy Church Amiably, were chosen because they use experimental language in ways which demonstrate that language is a system of signification that functions within ideological and discursive formations. Nonetheless, they all try to find ways to use language as a space for criticism. The first chapter deals with To the Lighthouse and the ways in which it uses Free Indirect Discourse to problematize voice as an expression of individual intention. This is articulated as a worry which is transposed to the characters in the novel, who experience a lack of control of the language they use. With this move To the Lighthouse suggests that language is a discursive practice which controls subjects rather than the other way around. This means that there is little space for individual agency in and by language, which seems devastating for criticality. The second chapter focuses on Nightwood and its vision of a space beyond discursive practices. By contrasting a form of narration which is grounded in a belief in the ability of language to communicate reality with a narration that radically questions this idea, a narrative aporia is produced, which reaches towards what cannot be spoken. This aporia is formulated as ultimately beyond language, as silence, which is framed as feminine. This space functions as a subject position outside linguistic, discursive practices, as a counterdiscourse. The third chapter deals with Lucy Church Amiably, which most radically questions commonsensical ideas concerning language’s communicative function. By being completely nonsensical the novel suggests that the materiality of the signifier is the only reality that can be communicated through language. This reality is not informed by rational, ideological discourses, but is produced by the infinite possibilities inherent in language itself. The last chapter is a concluding discussion that investigates the political implications of the theoretical positions reached in the novels. It concludes with a discussion on the possibilities for political action and criticality in society today.},
  author       = {Ragnerstam, Petra},
  keyword      = {literature criticism,General and comparative literature,politics,aesthetics,feminism,language & philosophy,literary theory,critical theory,realism,postmodernism,modernism,20th century novels,Gertrude Stein,Lucy Church Amiably,Djuna Barnes,Nightwood,Virginia Woolf,To the Lighthouse,Allmän och jämförande litteratur,litteraturkritik,litteraturteori,English language and literature,Engelska (språk och litteratur)},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {298},
  publisher    = {English Studies},
  school       = {Lund University},
  title        = {Language Subject Ideology: The Politics of Representation in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Djuna Barnes's Nightwood and Gertrude Stein's Lucy Church Amiably},
  year         = {2003},
}