Date of Award

1995

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

James B. Olney

Abstract

This project explores the function of body politics in constructing minority identities, or how people's physical and stylistic attributes are invested with meanings about who they are. It is interested in how race and sexual differences are defined in the confluence of discourses around visibility and invisibility. The first two chapters set up the parameters of in/visibility with regard to sexual and racial differences in readings of two paradigmatic texts about visibility, Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, which produces the lesbian as visible in the figure of the butch, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, which explores the paradoxical notion that dark-skinned African-Americans' "high visibility" actually renders them invisible. Chapter 3 reflects on the comparison between racial and sexual paradigms of visibility enacted by the structure of Chapters 1 and 2 through a reading of Blair Niles's 1931 novel Strange Brother. Chapter 4 argues that the pattern of identification is central to the way I analyze structures of visibility in the first three chapters. It begins with a reading of Homi Bhabha's theory of the stereotype as a form of fetishism, and moves into a reading of three novels, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, and Michelle Cliff's Abeng, which are interrelated in that each of the latter two novels rewrites the text(s) which precede it. The last chapter, "How to Recognize a Lesbian," analyzes the status of the relationship between identity-formation and visibility within current feminist criticism. It examines how the construction of the identities "butch" and "woman of color" as visible leads to the displacement of those who do not "look like what they are" (women of color who can "pass" for white and femme lesbians who can "pass" for straight) from the communities feminism intends to represent. Reading the theoretical/autobiographical texts of Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and Gloria Anzaldua in connection with critical responses to those texts by both white feminists and feminists of color, the chapter argues that strategies of visibility are sometimes deconstructed, but also reinscribed to underpin the construction of lesbian identity within contemporary theories of race, gender and sexuality.

Pages

283

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