Monstrative acts and becoming-monster: on identity, bodies, and the feminine other

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Moffat, Nicola Jane
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University College Cork
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Using two examples of literary monsters, the Creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and Grendel’s Mother in Beowulf, this thesis demonstrates the bearing fictional identities have on “real” bodies, through an examination of two further literary texts, David Henry Hwang’s play, M. Butterfly (1986) and J. M. Coetzee’s novel, Disgrace (1999). Western definitions of Being have historically divided body and mind, favouring the mind as formative of subjective experience and denigrating the body as secondary and impure. This thesis demonstrates that this mind/body binary is symptomatic of the masculine ontological imperative to disown the body and its effects on Being, simultaneously ridding itself of the feminine it believes is its irrational opposite. Using recent feminist reviews of the canon, which emphasise the body’s importance to ontology and demonstrate the conceptual association between the feminine and the corporeal, this thesis links performative identity practices to theories of monstrosity, explaining how fictional qualities adhere to monstrous bodies by proposing a new theoretical category, the “monstrative.” The monstrative is a performative force that makes the Other into a living sign of Otherness; however, unlike earlier theories of Othering, the monstrative accounts for the Other’s being other to herself. This thesis also attempts to read the misrepresented body of the Other as a possible site for more empowered identity performances, where the monstrous “I” is interpreted as a potentially positive model for identity practice, through the conceptualisation of identity as a process of Becoming rather than Being. The transferal from a noun to a verb not only emphasises the performativity of identity, but also suggests fluidity and multiplicity in identity practice, which always already indicates a monstrosity at work. Thus, while monstrative acts constitute bodies as monstrous, Becoming-monster is an empathetic response to the Other’s monstrosity.
Monstrosity , Performativity , Ontology , Feminist theory
Moffat, N. J. 2015. Monstrative acts and becoming-monster: on identity, bodies, and the feminine other. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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