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Towards a theory of absence: Subjectivity, desire and signification

Fuery, Patrick J. (1992) Towards a theory of absence: Subjectivity, desire and signification. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study is concerned with the epistemic and hermeneutic functions of absence, particularly within certain paradigms of post-structuralist theory. It argues a theory of absence in two ways: the significance of systems of absence to the theoretical issues of post-structuralism, in particular the works of Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva and Jacques Derrida; and the formation of a semiotics of absence.

The post-structuralist field (in its heterogeneity) is examined according to the ways in which subjectivity, discourse and desire can be seen to be based on principles of absence. The study argues that we can speak of a dialectization of absence, which produces primary absences (those absences divorced from any sense of presence), secondary absences (those absences which necessarily imply a binary presence), and non-absence (a register of presences). It is also noted that primary absences are not posited as transcendental signifiers, inserted in the place of the privileged presences (subjectivity, language, logos, etc.), but as demonstrations of the active processes of absence in the production of models of signification (which includes the formation of the subject, the actions of desire, and discursive practices). To this end subjectivity is seen as an absence based on sites of subjectivity/the subject as type; discourse is seen as a series of practices of absence, or at the very least as depending on absences for production and operation; and desire is seen as a motivational system of absences, that is, producing absences and being based on absence itself.

A semiotics of absence is devised in terms of two conceptual frames: that absence is vital to the understanding of semiotics as a critical model; and that semiotics can be developed to understand the operation of absence. This involves examining a number of feamres of semiotic theory in terms of absence (including the structure of the sign, the operation of codes, absence and signification, and the axes of metaphor and metonymy) as well as considering how semiotics operates as an interpretative model (the examples considered include the gaze and the scopic drive, absences in the textualisation of the body, absence and discursive practices).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of 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): Ruthrof, Horst
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