The origami of desire: unfolding and refolding the desiring self (F)
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This thesis celebrates the emancipatory potential of writing, which can be a tool for creating alternative worlds and, as Françoise Lionnet says, for ‘reappropriating the past so as to transform our understanding of ourselves’. I use fictional and auto/biographical texts, read through Deleuzian theories of desire and subjectivity, to argue that we can use our powers of thought and expression to change our understanding of self and others and to live more creatively and joyfully.Traditionally, women have lived secondary lives, shaped and repressed by hierarchical and patriarchal codes of behaviour and thought; many still live like this. Desire has been defined (at least in the dominant Platonic tradition of Western philosophy) in terms of lack and loss; in this binary paradigm, desire is a secondary function of language and culture, and the subject is opposed to, and constituted by, the other. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari propose instead that desire is a primary, impersonal connective force that flows through all life in a Spinozan universe that is composed of one substance, distributed on the intersecting yet distinct planes of the virtual or invisible and the material or visible. On these planes, a multiplicity of incorporeal events and organised forms and subjectivities proliferate and connect in a dance of difference and repetition — always folding, unfolding, refolding, becoming.The thesis is structured as a métissage or assemblage, a braiding of different narrative strands: theory, the literature — fictional and non-fictional — of medieval Heian Japanese court women, and my own auto/biographical writing. My central proposition is that desire is immanent creative energy that produces folds of time, memory, material forms and subjectivity that, ‘like origami, can be unfolded and refolded into different shapes.’ I use the figure of origami as a recurring motif to describe and explore the ever-changing process of the construction of selfhood, which is both active and reactive, self- and other-folded. This process is illustrated in the literature of Heian women, whose lives were controlled to an extreme degree, but who, in their closeted interiors, created an extraordinary body of confessional and fictional literature, much of which is still extant, translated, studied and enjoyed. Desire, in this labyrinthine world, is active and masculine, yet the literature is a décoverture of men’s penetrative and exploitative use of women for their gratification, and a celebration of the women’s hidden desires (for emotional satisfaction and security, for personal freedom, for spiritual fulfilment) and rich imaginative lives. This year, on November 1, Japan celebrates the thousandth anniversary of the creation of The tale of Genji, the world’s first novel, considered by many scholars and readers to be a masterpiece. Such is the power of the imagination, that a subjugated woman could produce a work that is transformative in its creative power throughout and beyond one thousand years of world history and culture.Within the braided narrative of the origami of desire, stories of my life are framed by reflections that theorise the themes of failed subjectivity — a construction of femininity within the bourgeois paradigm of woman as mother to her children and wife (and mother) to her husband, without ‘a life, sex and desires of her own’. The exclusion and censorship of female desire from this subjectification led, in my case, to a pursuit of love that resulted in the loss of my children. The causes and effects of that loss in my life and theirs are narrated in several memoirs, and the interpretive narrative seeks to unfold the old dysfunctional and hegemonic forms of desire and repression that produced this failure and perform an autopoiesis or re-creation of self in different, freer, more fluid forms.This thesis is a mise-en-abîme of stories of self and others folded within the main narrative of desire as origami. Works of fiction and memoirs present narrated worlds that reflect the ‘real’ world we inhabit, creating stories within stories where, like Alice through the looking-glass, we can see much that is the same, yet much that is different. We return to the everyday world changed in subtle ways, and we can use our perceptions and affective responses to refold ourselves and the way we react to circumstances. The narration of self and other in memoir and fiction is a way in which we can reinterpret the world and thereby change it, becoming worthy of what happens, becoming the offspring of our own events, so that, as Deleuze puts it, we can have one more birth.
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