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Title: The poetics of Empire : a model of time and a problem of language in medieval and in postcolonial writing
Author: Murray, Teresa Grace
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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A gendered trope of 'auctoritas' links Dante's 'Commedia' with the postcolonial novels, Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' and Leslie Marmon Silko's 'Ceremony'. The recurrence of a circular motif inscribing mystery - present at the levels of structure, theme and language - in these texts, undermines both the logo/ethnocentricity ascribed to medieval writing, and the criticisms levelled at postcolonial writers for writing in colonising languages. The explicit constructions of gender, and the traditionally peripheral role of woman, find a central place in these texts ultimately concerned with the positing of loss and absence. The hierarchical universe which emerges from a dual cause - God is the first cause and man the efficient cause - in the medieval Scholastic view, together with the circular persuasive ends of poetry derived from Aristotle, provide a means ofjustification not only for the fictive forms of medieval poetry but also for the postcolonial writer's choice of English. In both cases, language - whether fallen or foreign - is at an ultimate remove and has already betrayed its enunciator. At a textual level, circular-simultaneous-with-hierarchical imagery - synthesised in the medieval "ladder of love" - repeatedly asserts an emphasis on artifice in these works. The concern with explicitly fictive representations of Origin - lost Edens and pasts - develops this means-to-ends argument. The textual echoes between these writings depend to a significant degree on key female protagonists who are both multivalent and explicitly fictive in the terms of their presentation. In this they conform to Kristeva's spatial model of poetic language in the Chora. The shift from a frustrated verbal emphasis to a visual emphasis, enabled by these figures, evokes the fantasies of lost primal scenes - the Edens of pre-lapsarian and precolonial pasts - and returns us, via the Lacanian gestalt of the phallic-mother complex, to the medieval perspectival resolution to the problem of freewill versus Divine Providence. Dante's use of 'auctoritas' vis-a-vis the Courtly Love tradition suggests a feminine basis to his methodology - both in its circular dynamic and in the feminine basis of the ladder of love which characterises it. T.S. Eliot's allusions to Dante, which explicitly rewrite the motif of the ladder, elicit a final justification not only of the use of English by postcolonial writers, but of their allusions to Western canonical writers - Tennyson, Yeats, Conrad. In the model of "significant re-enaction" presented in Eliot's cyclical response to Dante, a valid means of signing difference (within a frame of similarity) is proposed. The feminine figure of auctoritas developed here, and characterised in these texts by the goddess Circe, becomes the ultimate sign of a process highlighted in the writings produced by these two Empires - Holy Roman and British Imperial - but by no means exclusive to it.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available