Date of Award

8-2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Dave Kress

Second Committee Member

Naomi Jacobs

Third Committee Member

Steve Evans

Abstract

Critics of philosopher Michel Foucault have argued that "resistance" is an incompatible concept with his genealogical work, exemplified by Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality. Rather, these critics argue, Foucault's depictions of power are too totalizing, precluding resistance. Opposing such claims, this thesis argues with reference to the work of critic Jeffery Nealon that resistance is compatible with the genealogical Foucault, as well as necessary for opening up new readings of contemporary literature of transgression and the institution that calls both Foucault and contemporary fiction its own: the University English Department. With the compatibility and necessity of resistance in sight, I argue vis-a-vis two contemporary texts, Chuck Palahniuk's 1999 novel Fight Club and Mary Gaitskill's 2005 novel Veronica, what I call "resisting texts," for a series of transgressional practices, and the centrality of the English Department for linking these practices. In the secondary literature on Fight Club, critics are concerned primarily with what has now become known as "the crisis of masculinity," as well as resistance to late capitalism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The first chapter of this thesis, "Fight Club and Foucault; heterotopic spaces of transgression in Palahniuk's novel," takes up a position in relation to the secondary literature devoted to these two concerns, yet ultimately attempts to go beyond these readings to argue for the importance of space in the novel, an aspect that allows me to argue for what I call "spaces of resistance." In the final analysis, I offer a critique of Fight Club, in that it reproduces the logic of its opposition to capitalism and a so-called "feminizing culture." Even though they perform an effective component of the daily practice of transgression, spaces of resistance are not sufficient to fully and adequately "do" the daily practice of transgression. Attempting to take up this issue, Chapter two, "Beyond Minor Infractions?," considers another figure of the practice of transgression in another contemporary novel, Veronica. After a close reading of Foucault's essay "A Preface to Transgression," I argue that GaitskiU's novel's preoccupation with language suggests a more general claim about the contemporary literature of transgression and the shortcomings of two traditional ways of reading contemporary transgressional fiction. In the end, my suggestion is that we need a critical language of transgression, which resists traditional moralizing or celebratory readings. The space in which this language will find its being is the University English Department, a space of resistance and linkage point for the daily practice of transgression. As a space of resistance the University English Department is as much a part of as it is at odds with the larger context of the University. I argue in the third chapter for English Department as this linkage point for transgression, which includes spaces of resistance, language, texts, and courses. After sketching the issues of power and resistance at work in the University, I argue that performing transgression ought to be part of though not solely the project of the English Department.

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