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Begetting, flesh and text

Robertson, Deborah (2017) Begetting, flesh and text. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This creative writing thesis is a study of the meaning of childlessness in today’s globalised world, as well as an examination of the ways in which, in the First World, science, commerce and individualist ideology have sought to redefine the human desire for one’s own child as a human need.

In a novel, ‘Man of Aran’, I explore the existential nature of this desire for someone whose experience is largely neglected by public discourse on the subject – a man alone. The novel attempts to understand how constructions of heterosexual masculinity isolate the man in his grief, and in his relationship to others.

In an accompanying story, ‘Only a Fairy Tale’, I continue the analysis of reproductive desire, but move beyond the private realm of the novel to explore the ethical implications of redefining a desire – even one so deep and fundamental – as a need. My subject here is the opaque and shape-shifting practices of assisted reproductive technologies, which in their most interventionist forms exploit the unequal power and opportunity of the world’s women, while at the same time creating new categories in our social order: those who can afford to purchase parenthood, and those who cannot.

Bridging the novel and the story is a reflective essay, ‘On Failing Better’, which serves as an account of the relationship between the two works, as well as an elucidation of their creative processes and the contexts from which they arose. In particular, the essay identifies the novel and the story as autobiographical works, informed both by my own childlessness, and by experiences that have led me to a personal reappraisal of human-centred ideas of ‘flesh and blood’. The essay examines both the restrictive and enabling nature of the osmosis between self and imaginative work, and reaches for an understanding of what literary measures of ‘realisation’ and ‘success’ might mean when art is intimately connected to life.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Mishra, Vijay
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