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Paradoxical Bodies: Femininity, subjectivity and the visual discourse of ecstasy

Turvey Sauron, Victoria Elizabeth (2007) Paradoxical Bodies: Femininity, subjectivity and the visual discourse of ecstasy. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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The aim of this research is to explore the possibility of the articulation of an embodied feminine subjectivity within visual culture. Tracing the tropes and discourses of visuality operating around the female body in representation via Warburg’s notion of the pathos formula, I examine the extent to which specific images acquiesce or resist dominant narratives of femininity within patriarchal visuality. The search for an embodied subjectivity leads to encounters with paradoxical bodies whose apparent passivity and ecstatic submission mask potential articulations of subjecthood through networks of visual and bodily memory. When the female body is represented in extreme states, where it can be both subject and object, desiring and desired, it becomes engaged in discourses of concealment and revelation, veiling and penetration, interiority and exteriority, which are played out in terms of drapery, skin and the body’s boundaries. These visual articulations of femininity are at the heart of Western visual culture, traversing the boundaries of context, period and genre, yet bodily representation often remains problematically linked to phallic and fetishistic modes of viewing which perpetuate the alienation of a feminine subjectivity. Beginning with The Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Bernini, the first chapter presents the impasse met by traditional art history and begins to propose, around the figure of Mary Magdalene, the notion of the ‘Caravaggesque’ body. The second chapter traces the phallic structure of viewing through representations of Venus and sculptural drapery, finishing by interrogating the engagements of Cindy Sherman and Orlan within these discourses. Chapter Three articulates potential areas within visual culture, from Caravaggio to Artemisia Gentileschi to Hildegard of Bingen, where depicted subjectivity begins to emerge beyond a dualist structure of the body and mind. Finally, a theorisation of the visuality of pregnancy leads to the possibility in Chapter Four of a feminist articulation of subjectivity based on a body marked by a pre- and post-maternal temporality.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.484907
Depositing User: Ethos Import
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2020 11:56
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2020 11:57
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26108

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