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‘Never be yourself, yet always: Writing a first-person moving beyond self’

Hall, Melanie Sarah (2022) ‘Never be yourself, yet always: Writing a first-person moving beyond self’. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

PDF - Whole Thesis
Embargoed until June 2023.


In this thesis I critically and creatively explore the potential for first-person writing that, rather than being limited to its subject position, is capable of expansiveness, or a movement beyond its apparent position. Beginning as a study of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931), the thesis brings Woolf’s work into conversation with Roland Barthes’ lectures on haiku in The Preparation of the Novel (2011) and Brian Dillon’s Essayism (2017). I will show how The Waves might be read as essayistic, broadly, in that it is speculative, contains partial accounts, highlights contingent experience, and privileges uncertainty. More specifically, The Waves can be read as essayistic in that Woolf’s use of ‘I’ is – like the ‘I’ of her essays – a mixture of personal and impersonal, capable of a situatedness, and a movement beyond. The thesis combines theoretical discussion with close readings of fragments from The Waves. Through the thesis I relate the notion of a first-person moving beyond self to my interest in the role of impersonality in artistic creation. I argue that in the artistic process, one must inhabit that paradoxical position Woolf calls for in an essay-writer, ‘never to be yourself and yet always’. The journey towards the art of creation begins from the personal, but necessarily involves an openness to uncertainty. Following the critical component of this thesis is a novel in which I write in the first-person with a capacity for expansiveness, or movement towards the impersonal.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Social Sciences and Arts
Supervisor(s): Trees, Kathryn, Moody, David, Lazaroo, Simone and Grehan, Helena
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