Virginia Woolf and the materiality of theory: sex, animal, life

Ryan, Derek (2012) Virginia Woolf and the materiality of theory: sex, animal, life. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores the various ways in which Woolf’s oeuvre engages with new theories of materiality, focusing in particular on conceptualisations of sex, animal and life. This entails considering Woolf’s work in both textual and extra-textual, human and nonhuman, contexts, and placing her in dialogue with theoretical debates which have marked a shift since the mid-90s from the focus on language and discourse to questions of materiality and ontology. I read Woolf alongside well-known theorists and philosophers including Gilles Deleuze (solo and with Félix Guattari), Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway, and Jacques Derrida, as well as other important contemporary thinkers such as Matthew Calarco, Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, and Eugene Thacker. The most prominent of these throughout is Deleuze who, despite being a key figure of poststructuralism and citing Woolf’s writing as exemplary of some of his most famous concepts, has only emerged in recent years (much later than the likes of Lacan, Kristeva and Derrida) as someone demanding serious consideration in dialogue with Woolf. Also prominent is Braidotti, who refers to Woolf as an important influence on her thought and yet has also been understudied by Woolf scholars. After an opening chapter which seeks to extend and complicate the theoretical import of Woolf’s own well-known figuration taken from the natural world – ‘granite and rainbow’ – by considering relevant passages across the span of her writing including Night and Day and ‘Sketch of the Past’, I go on to consider questions concerning: sexual difference in A Room of One’s Own and To the Lighthouse (chapter two); sexuality and desire in Orlando (chapter three); human-animal relations in Flush (chapter four); and quantum philosophy-physics and posthuman life in The Waves (chapter five). Whilst these texts form the basis of each chapter, I also refer throughout to Woolf’s other novels, essays, short stories, diaries, letters and autobiographical writing. Focusing on these wide-ranging but interrelated issues, this thesis attempts to open up a broader discussion on what precisely is at stake, and what new perspectives can be offered, in theorising Woolf today. By reading Woolf alongside but also inside theoretical writings (and vice versa), my aim is not only to provide a new perspective on Woolf’s writings or to demonstrate the ways in which her texts help elucidate the subversive potential (and limitations) in these current theoretical contexts; it is also to explore some of the aesthetic, political, ethical, historical and conceptual links between modernist literature and contemporary theory. More specifically then, and building on the premise reached by poststructuralist and postmodernist criticism that Woolf radically destabilises essential differences based on binary oppositions (Moi, Minow-Pinkney, Bowlby, Caughie), I ask: what precisely are the models of materiality, and indeed subjectivity, made possible by Woolf’s texts and by the complex contemporary cultures and theories her writing has so clearly affected?

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Virginia Woolf, Modernism, Theory, Contemporary Philosophy, Deleuze, New Materialism, Posthumanism, Sex, Animal, Life
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Goldman, Dr. Jane
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: Dr Derek Ryan
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3408
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 May 2012
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2019 14:17

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