Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


English & Film Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Paul Tiessen

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


In her conclusion to Bodies That Matter Judith Butler posits that “if the power of discourse to produce that which it names is linked with the question of performativity, then the performative is one domain in which power acts as discourse" (225). In this thesis I will adopt theories of the performative, as a metadiscursive mode of analysis, to allow me to articulate some of the ways in which reading is regulated by formations of discourse and power. I will argue that if reading is considered as a performative process then different paradigms of reading will name, and consequently produce, different identities for a text. I will focus, specifically, on feminist and lesbian reading practices as examples of identity producing literary criticism. However, I will also consider contemporary re-articulations of the aesthetic as a reaction to identity-producing criticism that privileges an emotional response to both a primary text and to its possible identities. Finally, I will consider contemporary queer theories of affiliation as a way to enact multiple identities and create multiple affiliations for a text. Building on, and departing from, my analysis of feminist, lesbian, and aesthetic reading practices, I will propose a new reading paradigm, which I will come to term interdiscursive affiliations, that will be constituted by the discourses and associated reading practices of feminist, lesbian, aesthetic and queer literary theories.

In the introductory section, “The 1990’s and the 1920's,” I will outline some of the theories of paradigms and performatives that provide a theoretical framework for the thesis. Following this I will consider some of the historically significant ideas that constitute feminist, lesbian, aesthetic, and queer literary theories and reading practices. Proceeding from this general history, in “Regulated Reading Practices,” I will tum my attention to specific examples—Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography and Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas—as a way to examine some manifestations of feminist, lesbian, and aesthetic reading practices. In this section I will argue that feminist and lesbian readings tend to produce, respectively, feminist and lesbian texts which are structured by binary concepts of gender and sexuality. Alternatively, I will suggest that the aesthetic—as an emotionally embodied mode of reading—tends to create art objects that challenge conceptually determined textual identities. Next, I will tum my attention to H.D., a figure whose prose was not published until the 1980's and 1990's, and argue that her texts were immediately identified within some of the same formations that have recently re-constituted the work of Woolf and Stein. More specifically, H.D.’s HERmione, Paint It Today, and Asphodel were immediately located in feminist and lesbian reading practices and consequently identified, respectively, as feminist and lesbian texts.

In my final chapter, “Discursive Departures," I will propose some possibilities for a new paradigm of reading. Making reference to selected sections from H.D.’s prose and specific theoretical concepts I will explore some possibilities for the creation of interdiscursive affiliations. By locating an image in a multiplicity of discourses, I propose a departure from regulatory concepts of identity and a move towards a reading strategy that combines both emotional and conceptual modes of reading. I will, therefore, describe, and consequently create, a new paradigm of reading that makes use of feminist, lesbian , aesthetic, and queer reading practices without limiting a text to these exclusive identities. I hope to demonstrate that a reading paradigm that replaces ‘identity’ with ‘affiliation’ will enable one to experience a richer and fuller reading of diverse and complex writing by (female and lesbian) modernist writers such as Woolf, Stein, and H.D..

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