"Powers of misrecognition": masculinity and the politics of the aesthetic in the fiction of John Banville
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis analyses the links between masculinity and representations of power in the fiction of John Banville and argues that his use of the category of the aesthetic,especially the sublime, strategically presents the masculine subject as the site of a loss of power, often figured as selffragmentation or self-delusion. This strategy is particularly evident in Banville’s approach to problems of representation, especially with regard to narrating the past, the construction of systems of knowledge, and efforts to achieve or articulate self-presence balanced by an ethical relation to the other. In each case, gender difference and sexual desire act as markers within Banville’s key themes as part of the enactment of failure that defines the male protagonist. Existing gender criticism has examined many of the representations of women and femininity in Banville’s fiction, but has fully considered neither the ways in which these representations contribute to the construction of the male narrative subject that is the origin or focus of the text, nor the gender politics of the various articulations of creativity and intellectual activity valorised by Banville. Drawing upon Nick Mansfield’s work on cultural masochism, the thesis argues that the disavowal of power, or its entanglement in unresolvable dialectics, constitutes a subtle technique for managing power relations, the origins of which lie in the ambivalent relation to power at the heart of subject-formation. Contrary to the view that Banville’s fiction directly de-centres or deconstructs subjectivity, it shows that by aestheticising the de-centred subject the fiction works to neutralise difference and ultimately recuperate unity within elastic, even contradictory, narratives of self. Through readings of seven of Banville’s novels, it demonstrates that the misrecognitions and ironies that drive his fiction present epistemological and representational failures within an aesthetic closure that asserts itself, paradoxically, through these very failures to establish closure. Crucially, it is in the language of desire that this paradox is expressed. The thesis concludes that the logic of the sublime enables Banville to dramatise a fragmented masculinity that has lost its basis in traditional representational and philosophical ideals, but that it simultaneously brings about a recuperation and consolidation of the very power structures his writing appears to disavow.