Author

Erin Workman

Date of Award

2011

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Steve Evans

Second Committee Member

David Kress

Third Committee Member

Dylan Dryer

Abstract

This thesis draws from a variety of theoretical, artistic and literary sources to explore representations of and approaches to the construction and transformation of a subject's identities. Though I examine many materials, the recurring texts include Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Roland Barthes's The Neutral, Walter Abish's How German Is It, Michael Haneke's film The Seventh Continent, Franz Kafka's short story "Community," and Jean Baudrillard's System of Objects. In addition to these sources, I also consider the work of James Gee, Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Sigmund Freud, Maurice Blanchot, Chantal Akerman and Dan Graham. The aim of this thesis is not to determine which of these views is more viable than the others, but rather to create a space in which these diverse texts can work with and against each other to produce different images of how identities are formed and altered in a subject's daily interactions with self, other subjects, pets, objects and environment. My text, modeled after the late works of Roland Barthes, is composed of fragments in order to better facilitate the creation of this non-hierarchal space, meaning that I do not have central claims or concrete conclusions as a result of my research. I do, however, catch glimpses of several themes throughout the piece: the fluid, shifting nature of a subject's identities in time and space; the effects of social and discoursal demands upon the subject; the subject's tendency toward mirroring behavior in interactions; the significant role that recognition plays in a subject's life; and the tension between strangeness and familiarity in a subject's modes of perception. Each of these themes is linked to the consequences of a subject's taking up and being taken up by discourse positions and consciously or unconsciously adhering to discourse regulations and social conventions. Related to these points, I also discuss the various outcomes for a subject whose dispositions do not align with her social position/s, or whose modes of perception differ from society's unifying models.

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