My dissertation, Writing the Self: Feminist Experiment and Cultural Identity, was completed under the direction of Barrett Watten, committee members renée c. hoogland and Jonathan Flatley, and outside reader Rachel Blau DuPlessis.
This dissertation examines how experimental prose texts by women (poets and prose writers) interrogate textual and cultural constructions of identity through both form and content. These works complicate narrative identity as it is constructed in the autobiographical-style prose text, and call for increased possibilities for subject-identification in the world. This idea is opposed to both the transparent narrative of experience in which the text assumedly equals the identity and experience of the author of the text, and the opacity of texts that focus on language as subjectivity, in which identity is unreadable. My readings of works by Gertrude Stein, H.D., Lyn Hejinian, Claudia Rankine, Gloria Anzaldúa, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and others show how the authors foreground identity as a process, instead of representing coherent identities as end-products of autobiographical texts. The use of innovative formal strategies and experiment with narrative, combined with the content of identity critique, make these texts political projects that variously explore gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity in relation to contemporary American culture. I argue that we are discursively constructed as subjects, contextualized by symbolic language as well as the physical space or geography surrounding us, and that the relation between these and one’s having a sense of identity or self-understanding is a dynamic and fluctuating process filled with gaps, ruptures, and disturbances. Understanding the construction of the text and the construction of identity as active, non-linear processes can help expand possibilities for writing and identification in the world. This project is significant in the way in which it brings together a diverse selection of non/narrative writing by women in the twentieth-century, and combines textual and cultural analysis to think through identity issues in relation to contemporary social subjects.