Mimesis, mirror and mask : modern imaginaries of self and other
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This dissertation set out to investigate the thesis that the Modern Western Self has "created" Self as a self-creating, creative category, and in denying all possibilities of originality to the Other, has "created" the Other as an essentially imitative creature, a mirror-image of Self. I have in particular compared the conceptualisations of "woman", "child" and "primitive" as Other with specific reference to the British colonial experience in Ireland and the overseas territories. I argue that these ideas go back to a conceptualisation of the human self as dual, consisting of self and mask, and self and social roles. I discuss the development of this discourse against the background of the growth of imperialism which coincided with a didactic discourse and the spread of syphilis which led to an increased control of children's and women's sexuality, and was a key concept in the conceptualisations of the notions of age groups, genders, classes, and "races". Starting point for my discussion of imitation is Aristotle's conceptualisation of mimesis in the performative arts in Poetica, and Modern debates on his ideas. I propose that the notion of "imitation" as an attribute of the Other needs to be historicised and situated within the development of what has been called a domesticated imperialism, i.e. an imperialism built on the domestic idea which unites people under the symbolic roof of the imperial "home" but separates them in terms of age, gender, class, and "race". This domesticated imperialism has its roots in the mercantile imperialism which developed from the sixteenth century onwards and came to full fruition in the nineteenth century. It attributed a special role to reproductive sexuality in that it was through the control of inter- and intra-sex sexual relations that boundaries between ages, classes and "races" could be maintained or broken down; the rhetoric of the Other's imitativeness was therefore closely tied up with the rhetoric of control of the Other's sexuality. While my investigations have confirmed the significance of the notions of creativity and createdness, originality and imitativeness for ideas of Selfhood and Otherness, they have established that notions of "womanhood" as opposed to "manhood", "childhood" as opposed to "adulthood", "primitivity" as opposed to "civilisation" are always impinged upon by age, gender, sexual object choice, marital status, occupation, ethnicity, "race", class, religious affiliation etc.. They have made clear that Self and Other engage in a number of relations rather than merely being oppositional, and that creativity and createdness, originality and imitativeness can, to various degrees, be associated with either category. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century an academic discourse developed which conceptualised Self and Other as antithetical and mutual exclusive, if sometimes complementary categories. This discourse which established the supremacy of the Western adult male of independent means developed partially in reaction to public debates which questioned the primacy of the father and recognised the creative powers of the sexual, social and/or "racial" Other for the socialisation of the Self Recent studies of the Other in post-colonial theory, gender studies and social anthropology are still largely predicated on dichotomous models developed as part of this discourse in that they conventionally portray the Other as a mirror-image of the Self There is thus a congruence between (i) ideas on the relationship between Self and Other; (ii) ideas on the study of Self and Other; and (iii) ideas on the analysis of Self and Other. The dissertation proceeds to discuss the benefits of a theoretical perspective that dissolves these dichotomies through an analysis of nineteenth century discourses which acknowledged that Self and Other were mutually constituted, and a critical assessment of recent theories in psychoanalysis, anthropology and gender studies on the relation between Self and Other, with particular reference to the notion of performance which allows us to reestablish a link with Aristotle's Poetica. The dissertation goes on to question the opposition between originality and imitativeness, and concludes with the suggestion that the very concept of Self and Other needs qualification.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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