Un Je[u] de langage : La folie féminine et l’écriture de soi au XXIe siècle
Devine, Kathryn E.
In this dissertation, close readings of twenty-first century texts by Annie Ernaux, Nina Bouraoui, Maïssa Bey and Chloé Delaume expose the role of language and the possibilities offered by autofictional space in the construction of a mad female subjectivity. My analysis demonstrates how poetic and playful language, performativity and the valorization of multiplicity — of truth, of “sense,” and of self — interact in these works, fostering a communal textual space. Using a critical framework based in narratology, gender studies and post-modern theory, my dissertation exposes the implications of the literary shift towards autofiction through which mad subjectivity converges with reflexive self-analysis pertaining to the act of writing, the role of genre/gender, and the power of language. Blurring the lines between author and narrator, between fiction and reality, between life and the text, the generic hybridity of autofiction allows for language to act as a vector – even a form of contamination – prompting the reader to relate to the author as to the self. I conclude that the weaving together of fiction and autobiography in these texts acts upon the author-narrator’s understanding of their own story while also serving to implicate the reader, inciting his/her participate in a reevaluation of the signifier “folie” in the twenty-first century. I posit the move to “reclaim” madness in these works as inseparable from their authors’ understanding of the critical framework and debate solicited by “la folie” in the second half of the twentieth century. In the introduction, I outline and situate this problematic, explaining the socio-cultural and theoretical lens through which these texts can be understood. The four chapters that make up the body of my dissertation are organized by author, each one offering an in-depth literary analysis of one or more first-person narrations of female madness. The persistent interconnectedness of socio-cultural and gendered components of madness and its lived experience for these female narrators/authors is a recurrent theme from chapter to chapter. Yet, each text offers a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which madness and text interact. Finally, my conclusion opens towards contemporary questions pertaining to gender and authorship, structures of exclusion and domination within the literary and academic worlds and new ways of thinking about the relationship between author, narrator and reader.