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"Neither culture nor its destruction": eros in literature

Mara Steele, Western Washington University


This thesis addresses the subject of eros and eroticism in literature and language, asking about the role of desire in learning, friendship, speech, and the written word, and suggesting that knowledge and language can be sensuously empirical matters of flesh, bliss, and music. The title, “neither culture nor its destruction,” is a quote from Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text, and I am interested in performing something of a double gesture by addressing what may loosely be called “erotic” subject matter, while at once using eros as a figure around which to critically explore the functioning of desire within various social institutions and experiences. Primary critical sources are Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida, with whom I closely examine several different personifications and manifestations of eros, emphasizing its role as a force heterogeneous to the law as a matter of both affirmative and dangerous transgression. Eros is a prelinguistic passion and energy rupturing the rational subject, defying sociolinguistic codes, and stylistically and rhetorically functioning by its blurring of literary genres.