Exceptional intercourse : sex, time and space in contemporary novels by male British and American writers
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This thesis provides a theory of exceptional sex through close readings of contemporary novels by male British and American writers. I take as my overriding methodological approach Giorgio Agamben’s theory of the state of exception, which is a juridico-political state in which the law has been suspended and the difference between rule and transgression is indistinguishable. Within this state, the spatiotemporal markers inside and outside also become indeterminable, making it impossible to tell whether one is inside or outside time and space. Using this framework, I work through narratives of sexual interaction – On Chesil Beach, Gertrude and Claudius, Sabbath’s Theater, and The Act of Love – to conceptualise categories of sexual exceptionality. My study is not a survey, and the texts have been chosen as they focus on different sexual behaviours, thereby opening up a variety of sexual exceptionalities. I concentrate on male writers and narratives of heterosexual sex as most work on sex, time and space is comprised of feminist readings of literature by women and queer work on gay, lesbian or trans writers and narratives. However, in the Coda I expand my argument by turning to Emma Donoghue’s Room, which, as the protagonist has been trapped for the first five years of his life, provides a tabula rasa’s perspective of exceptionality. Through my analysis of exceptionality, I provide spatiotemporal readings of the hymen, incest, adultery, sexual listening and the arranged affair. I also conceptualise textual exceptionalities – the incestuous prequel, auricular reading and the positionality of the narrator, the reader and literary characters. Exceptional sex challenges the assumption in recent queer theory that to be out of time is ‘queer’ and to be in time is ‘straight’. Furthermore, exceptionality complicates the concepts of perversion and transgression as the norm and its transgression become indistinct in the state of exception. In contrast, exceptionality offers a new, more determinate way to analyse narratives of sex.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: Electronic copy restricted until 8th November 2019, pending formal approval.
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations
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