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Title: Conjurer laureates : reading early modern magicians with Derrida
Author: Gray, Sophie
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis uses the philosophy of Jacques Derrida to propose a performative method of close reading, which it uses to explore the relationship between language and identity in early modern literary representations of magicians. It addresses the common assumptions we make about the authority and stability of language by exploring the tensions that arise as the magicians attempt to use performative language to realise impossible ambitions of absolute power, knowledge and self presence. The texts studied are a combination of prose and drama from 1512 to 1607. They are read in light of Derrida’s engagement with speech act theory in ‘Signature Event Context’ and ‘Limited Inc a b c . . .’ , and also other related work of his on the performative foundations of literature and the law, including ‘Before the Law’, ‘The Law of Genre’, and ‘Force of Law: The ‘Mystical Foundations’ of Authority’. The final chapter also takes in Aporias. The magicians’ trajectories are followed in three chapters. The first is on the founding violences of their authoritative identities. Working with Derrida’s accounts of the law, it begins by describing how the foundation of authority is self-authorizing and therefore performative. It then explores how performative pacts, deals and contracts with the devil are used to establish and authorize the magicians and their supernatural worlds. This metatextual authority is reflected in the magician’s own ambitions for the certainty and stability of absolute power and knowledge. Using the early modern sense of ‘perform’ as to complete, carry out or make something, the second chapter focuses upon materiality and embodiment as attempts to stabilise or fix performative utterances. Fake suicide notes and contracts written in blood are analysed to demonstrate the slip and drift equally at work in the structures of writing and signatures. In addition, Friar Bacon’s enormous brass head with its promise of ‘sound aphorisms’ is discussed as an alternative example of the misinformed urge to embody certainty. The final chapter addresses why almost all the stories of magicians, good and bad, end with their deaths. Following Derrida’s Aporias, death is represented as the ultimate opening limit, which undermines all attempts at certainty and self-presence. This leads to discussion of the other’s role in identity and, it follows, death. The magicians’ ends are compared, with particular focus on the sense of a coming event in the final scene of Doctor Faustus. The use of Derrida’s work to engage with early modern texts responds to a significant gap in the field. It offers original, contemporary insight into traditional themes of power, language and identity that are usually approached from a historicist perspective. The critical-creative close reading describes and carries out by the thesis suggests an exciting way to performatively respond to literature of the past, bearing witness to it but also transforming it into something new.
Supervisor: Davis, Nick; Das, Nandini Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PE English