Sexuality, discourse and the self in the works of Georg Trakl and Robert Musil
The main concern of my thesis is to show that sexuality, and in particular the motifs of bisexuality and sexual violence, which were generally mere modish accessories in the Austrian literature of the fin-de-siecle, have a crucial, constitutive function in the works of these two authors. It seeks thereby to redress the prevalent view of the sexual thematic in both writers as a marginal curiosity rather than as fundamental to the economy of their, in other respects, very different oeuvres. There are striking affinities; in either case a narcissistic ideal of androgynous union with the sister is set up, only to be revoked by the counter-motif of incestuous 'Lustmord'. The problem of sexual antagonism is exploited by both writers as symbolic ground for the exploration of the crisis in the sense of self. At the same time it determines the discursive structures of the works, as sensuality subverts both the characters' quest for a 'common sense' in language, and their creators' pursuit of a more authentic aesthetic discourse and form. The section on Trakl concentrates on the corruption of semiotic patterns in the poetry by sexual desire. The signs are conceived as metatexts (images of the text within the text); their disarray, and the resultant disorientation of 'readers' within the poetic landscape, at once allegorises the predicament of the poet as seer and the reader's quest for a sense of direction in the text. My discussion of the problematics of sexuality, discourse and the self will turn on the crucial motif of the mirror. The mirror coordinates all three of these themes, maintaining a multiple function as medium for narcissistic desire, as metaphor for poetic creativity, and as the space inhabited by the 'Doppelgáger'. It is also identified as a corollary of the narcissistic sister-figure; the disfigurement which both are made to suffer in the later poetry is seen as symptomatic of a more general threat to the poet's figurative enterprise. The section on Musil also centres on the twin motifs of the mirror and the double. Here the interrelation of psycho-sexuality and problems of discourse is shown to be related to theories of the psyche contemporary with Musil's work (Weininger,Freud and Rank). In its sophistication it is also seen to anticipate certain post-Freudian developments in psychoanalytic theory, with key ideas from the thought of Lacan being applied in the exegesis of the texts. In Tóeβ the protagonist's sexual and epistemological crises are shown to be inextricably meshed, indicating a far closer affinity with Freud's early work than critics have been willing to recognise. In the Vereinigungen novellas the emphasis is on the correlation between the deferral of desire and the failure of dialogue between the sexes, focusing on the partitive intervention of the 'Vorwand'. There follows an analysis of key chapters from Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften where the problematic association of sexual identity, discursive integrity, and the sense of self, is most acutely in evidence. My argument culminates in the proposition that the sense/sensuality dichotomy is fundamental to the problem of finding a true end for the text.