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Sexual assault and the ethics of non-representation in contemporary fiction

Boon, Lucy (2016) Sexual assault and the ethics of non-representation in contemporary fiction. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis consists of a critical component and a creative component in an examination of how non-explicit representations of sexual assault against women can function in an ethical manner in contemporary fiction. In particular, the thesis argues that representations which veil or otherwise deny the reader direct access to the sexual assault scene can create productive, ethical spaces which invite the reader to reflect on cultural assumptions. The thesis analyses J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) and Toni Morrison’s A Mercy (2008) and explores current debates concerning the representation of suffering. The thesis raises the question of what is at stake in the representation of sexual assault. In Disgrace, Coetzee’s use of an unreliable narrator and a limited point of view, among other strategies, confronts the reader with the unknowable and directs the reader’s attention to issues of sexism, racism and violence in post-Apartheid South Africa. A Mercy represents sexual assault obliquely and uses euphemism to refocus readers away from the immediate ‘body in pain’, representing sexual assault as a systemic (and historic) culture with social implications for the understanding the present.

In the creative writing component, my novella titled Taking Care of Amy explores the issues raised in the thesis. The story, set in present-day Western Australia, centres on a single mother who is raising her three daughters — two teenagers (one of whom is disabled) and a toddler — under difficult circumstances.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Owen, Christine and Surma, Anne
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