Precarious subjectivity in the works of John Banville : a lacanian reading

Abstract : The present project sets to complement the previous readings of the “self” in John Banville’s fiction by reproblematizing the precariousness of the author’s “subject of narration.” It examines the way in which the author constantly manipulates various narrative elements and consequently creates new experiences. Jacques Lacan’s understanding of the relation between the subject and the signifier, I argue, provides an excellent set of tools to address the way in which the notion of subjectivity is dissected, enhanced, and even extended, in Banville’s philosophically imbued fiction. The central thesis is that Banville creates a narrative universe in which his protagonists’ perception moves in interesting ways as the aspects of the Lacanian triad (the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real) are reshuffled, resulting in a precarious sense of self and reality. Although other thinkers (especially the ones hinted at in the narrative, most notably, de Man, Kleist, and Nietzsche) are drawn upon, the theoretical backbone relies on Lacan’s theory of subjectivity as well as recent Lacanian thinkers, most notably, Slavoj Žižek, Mladen Dollar, and Stijn Vanheule. Žižek’s reading of Lacan is of special interest to this study as he theorizes virtuality as a concept using Lacan’s triadic model. In addition, using Žižek’s definition of postmodernism as “symbolic inefficacy” allows us to shed new light on the long debate over Banville’s modernism versus his postmodernism. The dissertation consists of three parts. The first part focuses on Banville’s earlier work, namely, Birchwood, Mefisto, and The Book of Evidence. Here, I examine how the narrators’ preoccupation with finding certainty and truth results in a psychotic universe in Mefisto and a hysteric one in The Book of Evidence. Focusing on the latest trilogy, Eclipse, Shroud, and Ancient Ligh the second part examines the way in which Banville uses the category of the uncanny to create a Gothic narrative in Eclipse. Moreover, the concept of object a is used to demonstrate how the subject/object distinction collapses and gives rise to the Real dimension of the subject. The third and final part argues that the narrators seek to counter the undecidability generated in their uncanny narrations via the rehabilitation of the surface, one with which they hope to restore their precarious sense of self. Both chapters in this part address Banville’s engagement with Paul de Man’s deconstructive theory of language and representation and argue that Banville stages de Man’s ideas as well as his life-story in order to advance his own conception of representation and selfhood. Friedrich Nietzsche, I claim in both chapters, provides the narrators with a way out of the predicament posited by de Man. The underlying idea explored throughout the project is that Banville’s epistemological project can be summed up as an attempt to find a mode of articulation independent from the Symbolic order as most of his narrators, in one way or another, express a fundamental incredulity towards the Symbolic Other. By stripping reality of its Symbolic underpinnings, the Banvillian protagonist allows the Real to emerge and then domesticates it as magic. He does so using the surface of the written pages of his narrative, a surface onto which he can fuse word and image.
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Mehdi Ghassemi. Precarious subjectivity in the works of John Banville : a lacanian reading. Literature. Université Charles de Gaulle - Lille III, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015LIL30038⟩. ⟨tel-01302914⟩

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