Female Exiles in Language: Reading for New Poetic Subjects in Modern and Contemporary Feminist Experimental Poetry

Lim, Tae Yun. Female Exiles in Language: Reading for New Poetic Subjects in Modern and Contemporary Feminist Experimental Poetry. 2016. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

The research aim in this dissertation is to analyze the experimental poetic languages of H. D., Gertrude Stein, Cathy Park Hong, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, and discuss the ethico-political potential of their languages to sustain "new" female poetic subjects and new experiences for them. For this purpose, throughout the main chapters, the question is asked: Who are these poetic "I"s in their works and what are their major attributes? Is this new poetic "I" a single and coherent subject or else a "becoming" subject of a sentence that does not have any fixed ground? How do the language-oriented poems suggest possibilities for reconstructing the writing and reading subjects and reshaping the conventional female subject's position in language? How do these poems alter the rigid conception of gender/racial division through diverse narrative devices? These questions are answered in chapters 2-4, covering diverse theoretical perspectives on and approaches to the concept of "difference," from psychoanalytic feminist theory to contemporary queer and phenomenological theories. Chapter 2 explores how the poetic language in H. D.'s later works such as HERmione (1927) and Helen in Egypt (1955) successfully breaks through the order of phallocentric language and rewrites female unconsciousness. The theories of Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous are drawn on to clarify H. D.'s innovative poetic techniques and their construction of a new female consciousness. Chapter 3 uses Butler's theories of the "performative" subject and "perlocutionary" speech act to examine how Stein's poetic language constructs the speaking subject as "performative." For this purpose, a step-by-step analysis is set out of Butler's theories on "performitivity" and the "lesbian phallus," exploring how they apply to Stein's notions of poetic language and subjectivity in Tender Buttons (1914) and Three Lives (1909). This chapter also examines Jacques Lacan's language theory and observes how his clinical language for neurotic patients also possesses the constitutive power to implicate and transform one's consciousness. The chapter also argues that Stein's poetic language in Geography and Plays (1922) also performs the therapeutic function of transferring one's fixed symptoms to the pure functions of the signifiers. Finally, chapter 4 engages with the modern and contemporary Korean American poets Hong and Cha, each of whom has a unique relationship with Korean language and culture through their innovative and stylish English verses. By using Gilles Deleuze's concepts of "minor literature" and "becoming," the chapter examines the varied rhetorical and formal strategies through which Hong and Cha incorporate the Korean language, history, and culture into their new poetic languages and construct new "becoming" ethnic subjects. Although the American feminist avant-garde poets and theorists mentioned in the dissertation all define the terms "femininity," "feminine writing" and "female subject" differently, it is argued that these scholars agree their own representational systems reinvestigate the fixed and permanent relationship between language and the world, produce different notions of poetic "I"s that are rendered less sexist and more transformable by the very process of "becoming," and finally, express different kinds of desires, pleasures, and happiness in the dominant field of language.