Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Abstract

The existence of asexuality, the non-experience of sexual attraction, forces us to reconsider a great deal of received wisdom about sexuality, subjectivity, and narrative, which are all closely bound together in modernity. These discourses, whose interactions we find in distilled form in the novel, have both necessitated and facilitated asexual erasure. I read asexuality as a threatening absence or stasis jamming the economy of desire that operates between subjects or propels a narrative forward. Grounding my study of asexuality in narrative theory and queer theory, I explore narratives that confront asexuality at the level of content--its manifestations, misrecognitions, and repudiations in history and literature--as well as narratives that engage asexuality at the level of structure--narratives whose forward movement is halted by the incursion of asexuality.

I begin by examining the narratability of asexual identity and the history of the misidentification and erasure of asexuality in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, leading up to a close reading of asexual erasure in the writings of Sigmund Freud. Then I trace the effects of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's incompletely accomplished erasure of the asexual possibility in Lady Audley's Secret. I both extend and depart from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's arguments in Epistemology of the Closet as I show how asexuality's defiance of the depth-based logic of closetedness and secrecy complicates Oscar Wilde's attempted substitution of asexual romantic friendship for homoeroticism in his 1891 revisions to The Picture of Dorian Gray. After discussing asexuality's incompatibility with models of narrative predicated on desire, I build on Judith Roof's critique of "heteronarrative" and argue that an asexually structured narrative opposes both the movement of endless desire and the satisfaction of narrative closure. An asexual narrative, instead, is marked by inconclusive stasis. This structure threatens in Henry James's "The Beast in the Jungle" and predominates in his less popular The Sacred Fount. Finally, I use a brief reading of Virginia Woolf's Orlando to relate asexual narrative to alternative temporalities and to a letting-go of seriousness about sexuality, subjectivity, and knowledge.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Share

COinS