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Reading for the Subject: Plots of Desire in the Work of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras

Hodges, Patricia Reading for the Subject: Plots of Desire in the Work of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:42900)

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The purpose of this study is to explore literary representations of the human subject in the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922–2008) and Marguerite Duras (1914–1996), and to do so using a modified, updated version of Peter Brooks’s influential theorization of plot in terms of desire. Both ‘subject’ and ‘representation’ will receive critical attention; in particular, the relation of ‘subject’ to ‘character’ will be explored. Post-Cartesian traditions tend to ground definitions of the subject in particular concepts of its relation to knowledge. As far as Descartes’s shadow extends, the individual is seen as coherent, self-aware and exercising freedom of choice. Throughout the nineteenth century, theories of social and medical determinism reflected in Realism and Naturalism posed new challenges to the belief that individuals are self-determining; but whilst they eroded certain assumptions concerning subjecthood in this way, they did not pose radical questions concerning the ability of art accurately to represent the relation of the individual to the (social) world. The assumptions underlying the writing of novels remained rooted in a concept of literature as mimesis. The classic nineteenth-century realist novel aspired to offer a plausible representation or imitation of the real world and, in spite of subsequent radical movements including the nouveau roman, it has left an enduring legacy.

Peter Brooks’s argument that plot is driven (as if) by desire is a valid and exciting one that allows narratology and psychoanalysis to be brought into conjunction. But the desire he invokes is (stereotypically) ‘masculine’, being the desire of a male subject for a (passive) female object; and he allows this ‘plot of desire’, which might be termed ‘desire in the masculine’, a normative status. Using close readings of Robbe-Grillet and Duras, this thesis modifies Brooks’s thesis by asking what a plot of ‘female’ desire might be, besides a softened or more passive version of the ‘male’ plot. This allows us to reassess each writer’s break with traditional notions of representation and subject by reviewing their writing practice in terms of desire. In spite of his claims in Pour un nouveau roman, Robbe-Grillet clings tenaciously to a ‘masculine’ plot throughout his writing; and whilst Duras initially deploys a similar structure, she increasingly problematises it, though without breaking from it altogether, and so offers possibilities for representing desire ‘in the feminine’.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Fowler, Dr James
Thesis advisor: O'Meara, Dr Lucy
Uncontrolled keywords: Le nouveau roman; Narratology; Post-Freudian psychoanalitic literary theory;
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PC Romance philology and languages
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of European Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Jacqueline Martlew
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2014 15:11 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 12:55 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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