Session 6: Abstracts
Re-Collecting Childhoods: Nostalgic Rupture and the Perpetual Return to Narratives of a Dis-unified ‘Self’ in Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are (2008)
University of Melbourne, Australia
Abstract: Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are (2008) achieves a kind of coherent incoherence. Jonze captures a fluidity, a hazy confusion, a raw affective space that is readily associated with childhood. The film illustrates the audacious ferocity of the subject in flux, a subject situated in the stagnated space between regression and evolution, and the fierce confusion of an adult-in-becoming. Through a turbulent fracturing of the child on-screen, this nostalgically charged film delineates not only the ruptured-psyche, but also, an adult preoccupation with the return to imagined, liminal, and childhood spaces. Max’s romp through his fantastical, uproarious world becomes representative of a pre-unified subjecthood: before we asked, before we answered, the questions of ‘Self’. It is here that we return during moments of rupture, here that we are returned by Jonze’s honey-hued film, to encounter characters all too familiar. The monstrous, engorged, aggressive yet amiable, creatures of Max’s fantasy can be read as bestial articulations of adult phantasies around the dis-unified, pre-langue ‘Self’. By drawing on theories of nostalgia, reverie and particularly Elizabeth Grosz’ discussion of time, space, and subjecthood, I will argue that the adult’s perpetual return to the child on-screen is a desire for the unattainable object, a desire to re-encounter, to re-answer, the question of ‘self’. By examining these motifs in Jonze’s adaptation I hope to elucidate the murky slippage between conscious, unconscious and preconscious modes of being, which in my view is best understood as a paradoxical return to, and denial of, the child.
Time and the Making and Re-making of the Feminine gendered subject in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga
University of Melbourne, Australia
Abstract: Philosophy has a long tradition of speculating on the complexities of time and its impacts on individuals, and a number of recent theorists have identified the critical role of temporality in the process of becoming and being a coherent and unified self or subject. The role and importance of temporality in becoming and being a female gendered subject has also been the topic of some recent feminist debate, and theorists such as Simone De Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray and Elizabeth Grosz have argued that specific configurations of temporality, such as more linear configurations, with separated zones for the past, present and future, have proved challenging to the process of being and becoming a feminine gendered subject.
Popular culture is an excellent mirror to reflect the dominant concepts, beliefs and values of its society, and a critical reading of popular cultural productions provides interesting insight into the complex way that time enables and disables the feminine gendered subject. The Twilight Saga written by Stephenie Meyer, arguably one of the most successful of popular cultural productions in recent times, is a tale of female becoming, and chronicles the development of the awkward and vulnerable teenager Bella Swan into the confident and invulnerable adult vampire Bella Cullen. Time and its effects on the female subject play an interesting role in the motivation for - as well as the process of - Bella’s subjective becoming, and factors such as aging and the decaying female body, as well as childbirth and maternity and their relationship to cyclical configurations of time, are crucial to Bella’s transformation. This paper will undertake a critical reading of the Twilight Saga to explore the relationship between temporality and the discursive construction of feminine subjectivity, and highlight how re-conceptualised configurations of temporality could generate new critical dialogues in gender studies and feminist politics.
Body Image: Representations of Mary Jane Hicks and Louisa Collins in Frank Johnson’s Famous Detective Stories
The University of Newcastle, Australia
Abstract: The female body is often positioned as a contested space: simultaneously conceived of as a commodity; honoured as a site of self-expression; and visualised as a vehicle for reproduction. Such a competition of ownership facilitates the commandeering of the female body for a variety of purposes such as the pursuit of pecuniary interests or political gain. In this way, woman who are central to true crime cases – as a victim or as a perpetrator – can be objectified by the popular press in the rush to tell a story and, in some instances, marginalised: her circumstances re-imagined as a debate on the matter of capital punishment. These ideas will be explored through two cases that unfolded in Sydney, Australia in the late-19th century: the gang rape of Mary Jane Hicks in 1886; and two murders, ostensibly committed by Louisa Collins, in 1887-88. A brief examination of the contemporary coverage of these cases will unpack how the bodies of both women were conscripted for other purposes. Firstly, to sell papers and secondly to argue for the abolition of the death penalty. This paper will then focus on the re-telling of these events that are found in Frank Johnson’s Famous Detective Stories of the mid-20th century which served in both instances, despite the passage of time, to re-ignite the issues around publishing and punishment found in the original reportage of the crimes. Almost 130 years after the first of these crimes took place this paper contends that offering a feminist framework for the review of these, and similar, cases will demonstrate that circulation figures and discussions around the ethics of punishment are not dependent upon appropriation of the female body, thus attempting to return the female body to at least two women: Mary Jane Hicks and Louisa Collins.
Subjectivity, identity and the disappearing bodies of the literary text: Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North
University of Fiji, Fiji.
Abstract: Thomas Heyd argues that the hokku poet “Bashō describes a practice that concerns the experience of wandering in and for itself” and that in doing so “he has set out the rough parameters of […] an ‘aesthetics of wandering’” (Heyd 293). Using Bashō’s aesthetics of wandering, I argue that, by detailing the excruciating pointlessness of work undertaken according to commands that take little or no account of their feasibility, Flanagan’s novel (which takes its title from Bashō) transforms the features of this aesthetics into the lived experience of prisoners of war on the “line.” In doing so, Flanagan’s Narrow Road transfers Bashō’s aesthetics into a represented actuality through the privileging of subjectivity over identity and the dissolution of the body on the line. The three prongs to Bashō’s aesthetics are to be found in Flanagan’s novel: “the activity of traversing space by moving oneself and one’s things along a path” is suggested by the prisoners’ movement on the “narrow road” of the railway line they are building; “the (re)cognition of places” so evident in Bashō’s writing is articulated in terms of bodily dissolution in Flanagan’s novel through detailed descriptions of the camp via the bodies of its dying prisoners; and, finally, this aesthetics is further articulated in the postwar experiences of survivors of the camps who, I argue, “com[e] to know nature as it presents itself to a wanderer” through the dissolution of identity wrought by their wartime experiences (293). In pursuing this line, Flanagan is identifying the complexity of meanings evident in the terminology of such aesthetics, rendering what appears positive in the context of Bashō’s poetry negative in its practical application as this is articulated through the prisoners’ wartime experiences. Rather than being formative, Flanagan’s novel seems to suggest that wartime experience has a complexly ‘opposite’ effect. This is apparent, I argue, in the complications of identity being represented in postwar terms as a disunity (rather than a coherent unity), which is articulated through the use of spatial metaphors that reverse the formative intensities of subjectivity and body through symbolic acts of dispersal and dissolution.