Dragging the Yoke of Identity: Sexual Difference in fin-desiècle Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century French and Francophone Literature Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Dandashi, Manhal D.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Romance Studies
  • In what ways is identity a banner, a badge, or a burden? How a person conforms to or resists the implications of any form of identity is the central focus of this study. Through the concept of the yoke, we will discuss Au pays des sables by Isabelle Eberhardt, Monsieur Vénus by Rachilde, and Les yeux bleus cheveux noirs by Marguerite Duras, all narratives in which identity is not always what it appears to be. In this study, I will examine representations of gender and identity to consider the relationship between performance and sexual politics. As we will see, Rachilde’s and Duras’s texts create a world in which any facet of identity is a free-floating signifier, challenging traditional notions of femininity, masculinity, and sexual identity as well as the distinction between so-called normality and abnormality. Despite the seemingly liberating trends contained in these two authors’ works, we will see that sexual difference (la différence des sexes) often remains intact, a glaring point of contention within the textual worlds. Eberhardt’s work allows us to consider many of the same questions in light of how she created her own unique and hybrid identity, that of an Arab horseman in colonial Algeria. Her gender play and texts point to the limits of cultural, ethnic, and gender identity. Her fiction is highly critical of colonial power and authority while remaining at times ambiguous to sexual difference. The combined effect of studying these three authors as an ensemble leads to the conclusion, where we will investigate some of the larger questions of sexual politics and identity in a contemporary fin-de-siècle context. Exploring how each author treats the question of identity in its myriad different possibilities and examining the role of sexual difference and the sex/gender system becomes a vehicle for analyzing the role of norms and normativity in the social order. Adapting to the yoke or choosing to resist it becomes a political act imbued with the potential for reimagining what is possible for the self and the world.
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  • In Copyright
  • Fisher, Dominique D.
  • Open access

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