Declining (the) Subject: Immunity and the Crisis of Masculine Selfhood in Modern France (1870-2000)
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CitationWolfe, Loren Katherine. 2013. Declining (the) Subject: Immunity and the Crisis of Masculine Selfhood in Modern France (1870-2000). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractI locate my dissertation at the critical intersection of philosophy, medical discourse and
literature, and anchor it around five intertwining concepts: modernity, subjectivity, masculinity, immunity and Frenchness. I contend that immunity, as a concept at which life and law converge, offers an alternative and largely overlooked episteme shaping contemporary French literary consciousness as a primary regulator/negotiator between health and sickness, belonging and not belonging, volition and involition, and, finally, self and other. I treat immunity metaphorically and scientifically, and then trace the episteme through the works of three French authors—Émile Zola, Albert Camus and Hervé Guibert—all of whom adopt the medical novel as a way of addressing the relationship of the individual to society and to the self. Anne-Marie Moulin frames the immunological revolution as an ever-evolving "semantic event." In this vein, I devote my first chapter to examining how immunity instituted itself as a common trope of "becoming" embraced—and left naturalized—by post-structural thinkers grappling with their corporal limits. This rhetorical turn culminates in Jean-Luc Nancy's characterization of the immune system as the body’s “physiological signature," inhibiting the potential of man to transcend his biology. In my second chapter, I move from the metaphor of immunity to a brief exposition of the history of the science, ending my survey with Elie Metchnikoff (and his legacy), the "father" of cellular immunology who envisioned the internal body as a dynamic, every-changing structure. I focus the next three chapters of my study on literary examples where the male protagonist’s immunity has been compromised. For my first two examples—Le Docteur Pascal by Emile Zola and La Peste by Albert Camus—I analyze the portrait of the supposedly immune doctor, considering what the “costs and benefits" of this immunity are and how this "exceptional status" is destabilized. Then, in my last chapter, I switch perspectives from the doctors to the patient, examining the texts of Hervé Guibert who, I
argue, models his writing strategy on the retrovirus’s tactics, challenging literary conventions so as better to exteriorize his experience and “contaminate” (in the etymological sense as "touch together") his readers.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10974704
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