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Lesbian specters and the spectacle of lesbianism : representation and the limits of the visible

Author: Bonnie Burns
Publisher: 1998.
Dissertation: Thesis (Ph. D.)--Tufts University, 1998.
Edition/Format:   Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript   Archival Material : EnglishView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
The dissertation examines how the figure of the lesbian functions as the vanishing point of representation in nineteenth-century British literature and in classic and contemporary film. I argue that the lesbian operates as a kind of switchpoint between two seemingly exclusive representational realms, the textual and the visual, and serves, in historically contingent ways, to authorize and revivify an increasingly  Read more...
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Details

Named Person: Emily Brontë; Ernest Hartley Coleridge; Alfred Tennyson Tennyson, Baron; Charles Dickens; Robert Aldrich
Material Type: Thesis/dissertation, Manuscript
Document Type: Book, Archival Material
All Authors / Contributors: Bonnie Burns
OCLC Number: 43574631
Notes: Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Description: 282 leaves ; 29 cm.
Other Titles: Representation and the limits of the visible
Responsibility: by Bonnie Burns.

Abstract:

The dissertation examines how the figure of the lesbian functions as the vanishing point of representation in nineteenth-century British literature and in classic and contemporary film. I argue that the lesbian operates as a kind of switchpoint between two seemingly exclusive representational realms, the textual and the visual, and serves, in historically contingent ways, to authorize and revivify an increasingly routinized notion of heterosexuality. In unfolding this argument, I demonstrate that nineteenth-century British literature constructed a notion of lesbianism that exhibits the spellbinding force of the image while simultaneously displaying the morbidity of a representational system that depends for its meaning on the sheer force of a mechanical repetition. This project unfolds the relation between inscription and the visual register by pairing a literary text with a cinematic one in order to suggest how a cultural symbolic haunted by absence and loss will be continually revised and reinstated through the figure of the lesbian. Produced either as an overly present image or as the morbid representation of the absence that haunts textuality itself, the "lesbian" in nineteenth-century British literature inhabits a liminal position between vision and language. I contend that this construction of the lesbian served to authorize the aesthetic and discursive forms that have sustained the meaning of heterosexuality in the nineteenth century and beyond. While the tension between visuality and textuality in the production of the figure of the lesbian inhabits and informs each of the texts I consider, in order to investigate the ways that these two representational systems constantly default one to the other, I read Coleridge, Tennyson, Emily Bronte, and Charles Dickens through the lens of classic Hollywood cinema, reading, in particular, Dracula's Daughter (1936), The Uninvited (1944), and The Killing of Sister George (1968). My work demonstrates how the representational practices that sustain the meaning of heterosexuality in the wake of modernity are crucially determined by the specter of lesbianism; it also points to the ways in which these cultural logics are anticipated and performed by nineteenth-century discourse.

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