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The fetishism of meaning: disavowal in Kafka, Svankmajer and the Quay brothers

Sorfa, David (2006) The fetishism of meaning: disavowal in Kafka, Svankmajer and the Quay brothers. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94668) (KAR id:94668)

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According to Freud, fetishism is based on disavowal (Verleugnung): the possibility of believing two contradictory propositions to be true simultaneously. This thesis argues that the structure of the sign and of meaning more generally can be understood to function in exactly this way. The sign both is and is not that which it represents. Disavowal offers a theoretical explanation of the functioning of language, meaning and text based on a principle of the simultaneous existence of two contradictory propositions. The fetish is aligned with a series of concepts which, it is argued, have a similar contradictory structure: Sigmund Freud's unheimlich, Tzvetan Todorov's fantastic, Slavoj Žižek's real (incorporating Jacques Lacan's objet petit a and Alfred Hitchcock's McGuffin), Jacques Derrida's différance and Ferdinand de Saussure's sign. Theoretical underpinnings come from psychoanalysis, anthropology and Marxism. There is a consideration of the history of fetishism in philosophy and in film theory. Following the work of Derrida in Glas, an argument is made for the radical potential of the "generalised fetish", defined by disavowal. The thesis explores the action of fetishism in writing and film. Hair is used as one example of a symbolic object to show that an understanding of such a symbol is based on disavowal. The concept of fetishism is then used to explore the way in which the object is represented in the writings of Franz Kafka and the films of Jan Švankmajer and the Brothers Quay. These works provide complex representations of objects on a thematic level while the texts themselves function as just such fetish objects on a formal level. It is the self-reflexive interaction between these two levels that makes these texts exemplary.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94668
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2022 15:14 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Nov 2023 15:54 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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