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'The Name of a Problem': Ethics, mourning and literary text

Dobbs, Katie (2013) 'The Name of a Problem': Ethics, mourning and literary text. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This dissertation consists of two distinct components: a novella titled 'Rare,' and an accompanying exegesis. Both components are concerned with what literature has to contribute to our understanding of the ethical challenges occasioned by mourning: namely, the question of our responsibilities to the dead once they are given over to us, and with what is at stake in any attempt to represent singular grief or loss. The novella employs techniques of narrative to explore the competing demands of mourning, depicting a bereaved protagonist's fraught attempts to negotiate between the dead and the living, the past and the present, the other and the self. The accompanying exegesis, informed by Jacques Derrida's critique of the Freudian discourse of 'successful' mourning, offers new critical readings of three texts: Anne Sexton's 45 Mercy Street, Don DeLillo's The Body Artist and Marie Darrieussecq's Tom is Dead. Eschewing any elegiac performance of a 'successful mourning,' these texts, I argue, are traversed by the knowledge that mourning, following Derrida, must remain an impossible performative. This impossibility, crucially, is not to be interpreted negatively: as in Derrida's oeuvre, it signals a prolonged engagement with the question of our responsibilities to the other. In order to explore the questions of responsibility raised by these representations of unresolved mourning, I draw on the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. Taking into account his reservations about the aesthetic, I argue that the texts under review are marked by a profound self-reflexivity about the creative process; that it is precisely through staging an encounter with the limitations of the medium that their authors explore what it might mean - psychically, socially and ethically - for the bereaved to reconcile their loss.

Positioned at the fault-lines of psychoanalytic, literary and ethical discourse, and informed by the theories of Nicolas Abraham, Maria Torok and R. Clifton Spargo, the exegesis complements (rather than explicates) the accompanying novella by examining the nuanced ways in which specific texts might function to bring the reader into a space of ethical enquiry. More broadly, the exegesis argues the relevance of ethical philosophy to the problematic of mourning as explored in contemporary literature.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Grehan, Helena and Lazaroo, Simone
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