Date of Award

5-2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Carla Billitteri

Second Committee Member

Richard Brucher

Third Committee Member

Benjamin Friedlander

Abstract

This thesis explores embodiment, subjectivity, and social politics. It engages with certain philosophical ideas about what it entails to be a physical and social self in a world of other selves. Its philosophical perspective is grounded in the philosophy of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose writings argue that who an individual "is." is determined by the physical and cultural factors involved in her or his location in a particular human body. Merleau-Ponty also states that embodiment is a social phenomenon, and that the shared aspects of "being a body" are a means to interpersonal communication. The political implications of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, as they are presented in this thesis, are informed by contemporary feminist interpretations of his work. These interpretations advocate a return to the realities of physical matter, realities that they see, as did Merleau-Ponty, as ignored by conventional philosophy. Further, because of their focus on materiality, these interpretations view embodied selfhood, as Merleau-Ponty envisions it, as a potential source of sociopolitical transformation. After elaborating this particular philosophical standpoint, this thesis presents readings of literary texts by Adrienne Kennedy, Claudia Rankine, and Nicole Brossard that are informed by this interpretive framework. The texts selected for this thesis foreground embodiment, and the interpretations of these works offered herein focus on the potentially transformative sociopolitical implications of embodied subjectivity as it is mobilized in these texts. According to this thesis' readings of these works, Kennedy's play, Funnyhouse of a Negro, employs the body as a powerful tool of political resistance against racism. Rankine's work, Don't Let Me Be Lonely explores the relationship between the biological and cultural aspects of embodiment to reenvision the interrelationships between these phenomena. Brossard's project of "writing" the female body is a political effort that aims to create solidarity among women who otherwise may be very different, and to transfigure women's identity. This thesis includes readings of two of Brossard's works of fiction, A Book, a portrait of an intersubjective community, and Picture Theory, a Utopian vision of women's solidarity. Reading these texts in light of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of embodiment provides insight into how these texts rethink what it means to be a self in the world, as well as how such a rethinking might transform social politics. Further, this thesis argues that through their differential portrayal of embodied subjectivity, these texts do important political work in their own right.

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