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Title: The problem of misrecognition in Jane Austen's novels
Author: Ki, Wing-chi
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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The objective of this thesis is to present a dialectical framework within which to re-read Jane Austen’s novels and to counter the critical dichotomy between a ‘conservative’ Jane (proposed by the containment school of critics) and a ‘radial’ Austen (proposed by the subversive school of critics). It aims at providing a framework that is flexible enough to explain why the two schools are inadequate, but rigorous enough to shed new light on Austen’s complex vision of Enlightenment - namely, her insistence on the ‘positive recognition’, the ‘negative cognition’, and the ‘cynical misrecognition’ as essential moments in the development of the subject. My term ‘positive recognition’ refers to the valorisation of rational recognition that Austen’s novels share with Hegel’s enlightenment vision. Austen’s Bildungsroman echoes the Hegelian notion of Bildung to highlight not only the possibility of education, but the formation of new values. Eventually, the Austenian subjects recognize their mistakes, assimilate the content of their society and reconcile with the world. Her ‘negative cognition’ is likened to Lacan’s response to Hegel : the subject’s innate Otherness can only heightened its disunity and foreground the subject’s state of permanent ‘lack’ in the center. The subject’s new awareness pushes it to problematize the hegemonic, unifying discourse of the patriarch, and it results in a subsequent attempt to re-build a more open, processual discourse to confront the subject’s alienated condition. Austen postulates that disillusionment and negation should not prevent her subjects from enjoying themselves in an unprogressive, patriarchal society. After a painful process of awakening, the Austenian subjects willingly re-join the gentry class, and insist on reconciling with the patriarchs - even if the reconcilement is false. It is in this sense that Austen’s novels anticipate Zizek’s critical view of Lacan and Hegel in acknowledging the onset of ‘cynical misrecognition’. Cynicism is the ‘enlightened false consciousness’ that allows the modern subject to subvert the system with a sneer, and put up with it for the sake of prosperous self-preservation. It is a systematic misrecognition with a certain organization of affirmations and denials, to which the subject is attached. In this way, Austen’s ‘dialectics of recognition’ point neither towards docile conformism nor revolutionary struggle, but an on-going spirit of critique in the midst of misrecognition.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available