Reconsidering Meaning: Performing the Spaces Between the unNameable, unCertainty and Signification
Thesis DisciplineCultural Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis is concerned with an exploration into the reconsideration of meaning of the embodied subject whose figuration is defined as abnormal relative to the prevailing hierarchical structures of western Cartesian dualism. Evidence of the degree of subordinate representation and treatment of the marginalized body is so far-reaching and the variety of classification so extensive that it becomes necessary to frame my research within a lens whose focus isolates more specific parameters for the purposes of an interrogative and pointed analysis. This narrowing of my viewpoint of the process of absention allows more specific areas of interest to be highlighted—since this reductive convention is, ironically, both sweepingly consuming yet tends toward the categorical in its often taxonomic classification. Hence, for the purposes of this analysis, I concentrate on the representations of the body marked as animal, criminal and disabled relative to their normalised ‘other’—interrogating the overt construction of their difference and their consequent, emergent, points of similarity. This exercise not only points to their architecture but simultaneously implies the erosion of their distinctiveness as separate representations of abnormality—as well as emphasizing the contrived act of pairing them with their presupposed ‘normal’ binary counterparts.
I argue that the visualization seemingly inhering in the bodies of those absented from dominant ideological structures is necessarily limited, its fixity emerging from stultification; an othering that maintains the subject via carceral structures that are socially and politically informed. The confines of this paradigm are prescribed through a consensual ascription to a governing norm that stipulates the superiority of the artificially normalised body—thereby constructing a dualism of constraint that polices the acceptance and rejection of individual physicality—within a wider public sphere of normalisation. This is evident in the representation of the body on a cultural and political level and undeniably intersects its conceptual interpretation and lived experience in both public and private spaces. The thesis introduces a body of theory that operates on a number of levels and performs a variety of functions—none of which can be easily, or even successfully, separated from the content and role of the significant presence of performance work that comprises the final script. The latter is presented in the form of photographic documentation that links its own process of visualization to the thesis whilst maintaining an active locus of critique—produced as response to the multifaceted problematic of political and personal othering emerging from culturally inscribed figurations of animality, disability and criminality. The theoretical analysis and performance practice exist in a symbiotic relationship—creating a mutual dialectical analysis that aims to avoid the fixities inhering in the extremes of either approach. Instead, one is invited to consider the contrasts, comparisons and complements emerging from the intricacies of their relationship—thereby avoiding the redundancies accompanying their binarist opposition and by extension, the dualisms of visual figuring I have isolated for examination.
Utilizing my performative practice as a point of entry into this analysis, I have focused on the problematization of these reified representations of the body within western modalities of seeing, with a view to introducing a different space of articulation so as to encourage alternative inscriptions of meaning. This approach exemplifies my search to undermine the overriding cultural motif that maintains and perpetuates the oppression of the body marked as ‘other’. The spectacle of incarceration that western society continues to tolerate is thereby tirelessly interrogated, with the aim of exposing the secrets whose shame, if allowed to remain hidden, will never allow for release of the abnormal body from the society that birthed its difference.