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The postcolonial lesbian text: readings of four novels by Renée

This thesis addresses the question: “How might a text, written in a signifying relationship to the postcolonial nation Aotearoa New Zealand, be read as a lesbian text?” Part One addresses the possibility of the reading postcolonial lesbian text in four novels by Renée. It begins with an overview of humanist and poststructuralist reading and writing strategies which are contested within a contemporary Western lesbian literary field. At an intersection of poststructuralist and postcolonial debates I identify the potential for a queer reading strategy to disrupt lesbian humanist discourses by bringing the term lesbian into a textual relationship with the categories of (at least) sex, gender, sexuality, race and class. Also in Part One, I locate the four novels by Renée in the context of a New Zealand lesbian literature which is not widely recognised. I demonstrate how the hostile reception of four novels by Renée has been characterised by a colonialist discourse which manifests as the vestiges of a colonialist literary aesthetic operating in a contemporary culture sphere. Part One also outlines the strategy I have developed for reading the four novels by Renée. This strategy was originally formulated by Roland Barthes for rereading the classic text. The classic textual model is located within a Western humanist system of representation, the cornerstone of which is the Western humanist subject. Firstly, I adapt Barthes’s strategy to a rereading of three short colonialist texts, texts which promote a relationship of agreement with the reader as to the cultural and symbolic authority of the British Empire. This rereading strategy makes it possible to read the privileged Western humanist subject as always and already sexed-gendered-sexualised-classed-raced variously male-masculine-hetero-bourgeoisie-white. Barthes also offers a strategy for reading the writerly text. In contrast with the classic text, the writerly text positions the reader as a producer rather than as a consumer of the text. Secondly, in Part Two I demonstrate how a queer reading strategy can be productively applied to texts written in signifying relationships to a postcolonial context. In my reading of the four novels by Renée I demonstrate how each is characterised by a writerly approach to the constitution of colonialist subjectivities, these writerly texts being unlike classic colonialist texts in that they foreground the traces of cultural and symbolic inscription in colonialist discourses. I demonstrate, for example, how in the writerly text of each of the four novels the British Empire is connotatively signified in relation to family, home and nation in colonialist discourses. In each of the four novels, lesbian and other queer subjectivities are also discursively reconstituted in signifying relationships to colonialist texts of family, home, nation and empire. I demonstrate how, in relation to signifying imperatives of colonialist discourses, the novels are characterised by a postcolonial textuality which manifests the symbolic and cultural authority of the British Empire. It is my thesis that the four novels by Renée are writerly texts which foreground the traces of an earlier British textual imperialism operating in the postcolonial nation Aotearoa New Zealand. My queer reading of four novels by Renée also makes manifest the postcolonial lesbian text.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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