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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Errancies of Desire: Subjectivity, Difference, and Proximity in Transnational Film and Literature

  • Author(s): Messier, Vartan Patrick
  • Advisor(s): Waller, Marguerite
  • Hénaff, Marcel
  • et al.

This dissertation is concerned with the role of desire in the aesthetic experience; more specifically, it focuses on the ways in which we project and respond affectively to a work of art as formative processes of subjectivity. Inspired by Maurice Blanchot's "The Gaze of Orpheus," which links desire to errancy and "errance" (the French for wandering) and situates them as constitutive artistic forces, the guiding hypothesis is that the aesthetic experience is channeled via the mechanics of language and the gaze by the "errancies of desire"--the wanderings and errs of the desiring subject. Consequently, because desire is fluid and unpredictable, it produces heterogeneous and nomadic forms of subjectivity that undermine essentialist notions of cultural difference and specificity.

Adopting a transnational perspective, this dissertation examines a culturally diverse corpus of contemporary works, including postmodern American fiction, postcolonial African novels, and Taiwanese Second Wave cinema. Methodologically, I first highlight the functions of the errancies of desire in each work as a twofold process of affective projection and response, and second, I analyze how instances of transnational intertextuality position contextual experiences of subjectivity in proximity to one another by bridging differences inscribed within geo-political time and space.

Two interconnected thematic lenses structure my approach, each corresponding to a section of the dissertation: the first section investigates the errancies of the viewer's desire in films by Michael Haneke, Spike Jonze, and Tsai Ming-Liang by focusing on the aesthetical and ethical dimensions of subjectivization in film spectatorship; the second analyzes the errancies of male desire in novels by Bret Easton Ellis, Michel Houellebecq, and Alain Mabanckou as it pertains to hegemonic constructs of masculinity and culturally-sanctioned forms of imperial violence.

By utilizing a comparative methodology to highlight the role of affect and desire and the effect of cross-cultural intertextuality on apperception, this dissertation demonstrates how each text unsettles perceptions of cultural difference by producing new transnational subjectivities. Therefore, the aesthetical inquiries of this project further contribute to the poststructuralist critique of metaphysics by investigating ethical issues of difference and subjectivity in specific instances wherein we bare witness to the virtual dissolution of national boundaries.

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