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«Embodied Borders: Auto/erotica in the Writings of Anais Nin Chris Michael Ph.D in Critical and Cultural Theory Cardiff University 2006 UMI Number: ...»

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Embodied Borders:

Auto/erotica in the Writings of Anais Nin

Chris Michael

Ph.D in Critical and Cultural Theory

Cardiff University 2006

UMI Number: U584122

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Dissertation Publishing UMI U584122 Published by ProQuest LLC 2013. Copyright in the Dissertation held by the Author.

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All rights reserved. This work is protected against unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.

ProQuest LLC 789 East Eisenhower Parkway P.O. Box 1346 Ann Arbor, Ml 48106-1346 ii Declaration This work has not previously been accepted in substance for any degree and is not being concurrently submitted in candidature for any degree.

(candidate) Signed.

STATEMENT 1 This thesis is the result of my own investigations, except where otherwise stated.

Other sources are acknowledged by footnotes giving explicit references. A bibliography is appended.

(candidate) Date STATEMENT 2 I hereby give consent for my thesis, if accepted, to be available for photocopying and for inter-library loan, and for the title and summary to be made available to outside organisations.

Signed.... (candidate) Date For Lyn, with love.

iv Contents Title Page i Declaration ii Dedication iii Contents iv Acknowledgments v

Abstract

vi List of Illustrations vii Introduction 1 ‘Auto/erotic’ Foreplay Chapter One 32

Bordering on Subversion:

Sexuality and the Body Chapte

–  –  –

Bibliography 303 Acknowledgements I would like to thank the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory for the departmental studentship which has made this piece of research possible. I would also like to give a special thank you to my supervisor, Chris Weedon, for her continued encouragement, support and guidance throughout the past four years.

Thank you also to all the staff at the Centre for Critical and Cultural theory from whom I have learnt a great deal. In particular I would like to thank Laurent Milesi and William Spurlin.

I would also like to thank my friends and research colleagues whose knowledge I have drawn from over the last four years. Thanks go in particular to Elaine Brennan; Charlotte Boyce; Gareth Gordon; Irene Ragaller; Mair Rigby; Roberta Magnani and Jodie Poppleton.

I would also like to give a special thank you to Anne McMonagle for all her advice and encouragement.

I also feel it is fitting to pay tribute to Paul O’Flinn for his role in shaping and influencing my passion for literature and theory. His knowledge and enthusiasm was inspiring to me as an undergraduate and his support and encouragement played no small part in my academic achievements.

Finally, without a doubt, my biggest thanks go to Lyn whose patience and support has been ‘saintly’, and whose bad jokes and good humour have kept me going over the last four years.

–  –  –

Abstract This thesis brings together the two genres for which Nin has become so (in)famous: her autobiography and her erotica in what I have termed ‘auto/erotica’. By reading her autobiography and her erotica in and against each other I attempt to explore her development of a feminine aesthetic, or ‘womb writing’ as a strategy of resistance with which to challenge dominant discourses of ‘woman’ and the ‘feminine’, and her exclusion from cultural production. Drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida, Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, this thesis explores the role of the border in the cultural production o f bodies and sexual difference within Western discourses of sexuality, with particular reference to the discourses of psychoanalysis, modernism and pornography/erotica. My focus is on the trope of the borderline within Nin’s texts, which, I argue is less a marker o f radical difference than a site of instability offering the possibility of ‘other’ or ‘between’ spaces o f resistance.

This study engages with the politics of gender and genre by drawing on various feminist rewritings of autobiographical theory and Jacques Derrida’s ‘The Law of Genre’ and the Ear o f the Other in order to explore the tension between the ‘auto’ (the selfsame) and the ‘graphy’ in the formation of the ‘bio’ and gender identity. I explore how the threat of the other within the selfsame, the tracing of the dijferance of desire, affects the generic selfidentity of ‘autobiography’ and ‘erotica’ as representations of (sexual) identity. Nin utilises the radical instability of the autobiographical genre to put into question the ‘genre’ of gender identity, the gendering o f genre and the undecidable border between the ‘body’ and the ‘text’, the ‘life’ and the ‘work’. Drawing on various psychoanalytical feminist film theories of the female spectator and the masquerade I explore how Nin performs the ‘feminine’ or ‘woman’ of (male) Surrealist and mainstream heterosexual pornography/erotica in order to emphasise the gaps, to hold at a distance, the female from the feminine. The concern of this thesis is the ‘ob/scene’ margins of ‘erotica’ and the trace of ‘otherness’ that threatens the single and self-identical body/text. The ‘outworks’ or prefaces of Nin’s work not only disrupt fixed generic boundaries but also echo the desiring subject’s fantasy of gender identity, wholeness and unity. By drawing attention to the role of vision in the constitution of gendered subjectivity and the (re)production of the phallus as the primary signifier of desire, I explore how Nin’s erotica undermines a position of phallic certainty by drawing attention to the out-of-sight spaces, of ‘ob/scene’ pleasures that disturb and disrupt the illusion of ‘masculine’ phallic mastery. I argue that it is in the ‘inter­ view’, this dialogue or movement between (at least) two genres - autobiography and erotica





- that other possible representations might be glimpsed.

List of Illustrations

–  –  –

Figure 2 AnaTs and Rupert at the ‘Come as Your Madness’ Party Figure 3 Val Telberg, Untitled photomontage from House o f Incest Figure 4 Val Telberg, Untitled photomontage from House o f Incest Introduction: ‘Auto/Erotic’ Foreplay

–  –  –

Anai's Nin has become in/famous for two achievements: autobiography and erotica. This thesis attempts to bring these two genres together in what I have termed ‘auto/erotica’ in order to explore her development o f a ‘feminine’ aesthetic, and her appropriation of the borderline as a strategy of resistance in her experimental ‘womb writing’. To a large extent Nin’s ‘reputation’ as a writer has been constructed by a certain ambiguity between her ‘life’ and her ‘texts’. This has meant that her somewhat unorthodox lifestyle has tended to obscure the process of writing in her exploration of gender, sexuality and desire. One of the major concerns o f feminist theory o f the last thirty years has been the relationship of the female subject to language, femininity, the body and desire. According to mainstream psychoanalytical theory, it is women’s relationship to the phallus, and ultimately the symbolic, that has left women lacking in language and their erotic faculties.

One o f the key questions this thesis explores is: how does one particular writer, Anais Nin, attempt to represent a desiring female subject within discourses founded on the exclusion of the female body and feminine sexuality. Indeed, ‘how can the recognition of a hitherto repressed female eroticism embody itself in texts that might be called “feminine”?’ (Suleiman 1986, p. 13). As a woman and a writer, Nin occupies a precarious borderline position that is both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ phallocentric discourse. This thesis explores the possibility of rewriting and rethinking the female body and sexuality by concentrating on the concepts of the borderline, the limit and frame as engendering an alternative perspective from which the relationship between the female body, language and the feminine might be represented otherwise.

The focus of this thesis is the borderline in the ‘framing’ of knowledges and meanings pertaining to the (female) body, sexuality and gender. My aim is to displace limits and margins, to investigate the limits of the borderline and the ‘(in) the between’ of writing (Cixous 1996b, p.86). In order to do this I will be drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida as well as the feminist psychoanalytical theories of Helene Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. The drawing of borders in the constitution of meanings and knowledge also has far reaching affects on the material relations of class, race and ethnicity. Indeed, the border has played a major role in more recent developments in postcolonial, race and queer studies, which concentrate on the important debates around the racialisation of bodies, colonialism and transnationalism.1 However, this thesis focuses specifically on the borderline as an important textual trope in the development of Nin’s feminine aesthetic.

Certainly, the issue of transnationalism and race is pertinent to Nin as a writer. Bom in France to her Cuban-born father and her mother of Danish and French-Cuban parentage, Nin’s multiracial heritage and trilingualism becomes an important factor in her developing sense of ‘foreignness’. I do not wish to undermine the importance of Nin’s specific experiences as a racially and ethnically mixed woman living and writing between Paris and New York in the years spanning the Second World War. However, this thesis attempts to explore the disruptive textual strategies of the borderline, exile and ‘foreignness’ as a means of resisting dominant Western discourses of sexuality and aesthetics founded on purity and the exclusion of the ‘other’ within the selfsame. Of course, it is important to acknowledge that whilst I focus specifically on the gender politics of traditional Western modernism and surrealism, such movements were founded in colonialism and the 1 See for example Gloria Anzaldua (1999) who explores the implications o f the borderline as a geographical, sexual, racial and linguistic marker o f difference. Her border-identity, or new ‘mestiza’, offers a position from which women who are racially and ethnically mixed are able to challenge the binary oppositions structuring racism, sexism and heterosexism and to move beyond those limitations.

appropriation of non-western cultures.2 Whilst I realise that it is problematic to treat questions of sexuality, gender and identity in isolation, I feel that it is beyond the limits of this thesis to do justice to these particular issues.3 However, what I hope this piece of research will offer is a much-needed close textual analysis o f Nin’s work within a predominantly biographically driven field of scholarship.

Indeed, whilst this study is restricted to one particular author’s work it is not biographically driven and is, therefore, not intended to be a definitive overview of the author and her work: indeed, where might that boundary be drawn?4 That is not to say that the author, Anai's Nin, is not important in my exploration of her texts, but that she does not fully authorise or control the meanings that her texts produce. It is after all, as Roland Barthes remind us, ‘language that speaks, not the author’ (1977, p. 143). Furthermore, the critic (reader) is not in any ‘outside’ position from which she or he is able to study her texts as objects to be finally known and ‘explained’. As Nancy Scholar points out, there is no one ‘Nin’ to be fully discovered somewhere behind the text: ‘She is a series of endless contradictions and dualities’ (1984, p. 17). Yet whilst Scholar seems to attribute this evasiveness entirely to the author’s endless ‘seductive’ play, I shift the focus of this performance to the text itself and to that ‘internal border’ somewhere between the ‘author’ and the ‘reader’, the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’, and to the endless play of the signifier in the process of differance (Rodolphe Gasche in Derrida 1988c, p.41).5 Indeed, rather than 2 See for example Said (1994), Jordon and Weedon (1995).

3 Judith R o o fs (1991a) article explores the relations o f looking in the constitution o f gender and race in Nin’s erotica. Helen Tookey (2003) briefly explores the erotic appeal o f Orientalism in the discourse o f ‘woman’.

4 For author-based scholarship on Nin see: Oliver Evans (1968); Bettina L. Knapp (1979a); Evelyn J. Hinz, (1973); Sharon Spencer (1981). For biographical information see Deirdre Bair (1995) and Noel Riley Fitch (1994).

5 Derrida’s concept o f differance is a development from Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1981) account o f language as a system o f differences rather than a referential system. Differance is an attempt to incorporate the two verbs ‘to differ’ and ‘to defer’ in order to explain the construction o f meaning in language. Differance maintains that meanings are not founded in fixed referents, but are rather produced in the movement, displacement and deferral o f other (absent) meanings. For further information see Derrida (1997 and 1982c).

attempting to ‘impose a limit,’ (Barthes 1977, p. 147) my aim is to open up the texts to other absent or displaced meanings by reading Nin’s texts in and against each other. In this sense I will read less to find the woman in the text than to explore the text o f ‘woman’ and how that text might be opened up to other and multiple possible meanings.6 As Barthes reminds us, writing is not the place of identity or (dis)covery, but rather, the space of endless deference: ‘Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing’ (1977, p. 142).



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