Between the Acts: Anonymity and the Gendered Self
This thesis establishes and explores a new concept in critical theory: the anonymous mode. Developing from ideas around anonymity, gender, and authorship, the anonymous mode is my original contribution to the field of narrative studies, where the conventions of rhetoric represent identity through a discourse of self-conception based on absence. My critical reading of anonymity offers a new way of examining and understanding the central role of self-authorisation in gendered identity. The semiotics of absence in the anonymous mode, both as formal significant and contextual signifier, theorise identity as an objective construct: the private compromise of anonymity complicates the motive and intent of the self-producing subject.
The anonymous mode establishes identity as an object, where the primary condition of the subject is absence; it forgoes the narrative reconciliation of self-authorisation, and restores the subject to a state of dislocation. Literature in the anonymous mode demonstrates a persistent, intersubjective engagement with textual absence. Narrative examples of textual absence include, but are not limited to: doubled selves and dissociative states; shattered and split identities; non-identification (or non-recognition); nameless narrators, author surrogates, and other extreme acts of literary ventriloquism (such as the author-as-prosopopoeia); agender, non-binary, and other gender-fluid narrators or protagonists; collage, pastiche, and plagiarism, as a means of further distorting the self-conceived boundaries between fact and fiction, truth and reality. These encoded methods of communicating an absence of identity are thereafter decoded as gendered anonymity: an explicit, cognitive dissonance between self and subject.
There are two components to this thesis: a critical investigation of gendered anonymity, and a creative component that satisfies the conditions of the anonymous mode. The critical evaluation of the anonymous mode begins with a historical survey of anonymous publishing, before providing a comparative reading of Virginia Woolf’s posthumously published essay “Anon”, and its companion piece, “The Reader”. Woolf’s final writings explore the theoretical assumptions of anonymity, signaling the preconditions of authorship later established by Roland Barthes’s declaration of the author’s theoretical death. This critical position is fundamental to any reading of anonymity in female narrative consciousness, where the hegemony of authorship seemingly liquidates feminist artistic practice, deflecting questions of participation, inclusion, and autonomy. The critical component of this thesis engages with the semiotics of heteronormativity, feminist poststructuralism, narrative studies, and gender and queer theory to examine the representation of autonomy and sexual agency in writing by women. Writers in this thesis’s critical framework include: Sylvia Plath, Angela Carter, Kathy Acker, Chris Kraus, Maggie Nelson, and Rachel Cusk.
The creative component of this thesis––The Albatross––is explicitly produced within the critical framework of the anonymous mode. By introducing a multiplicity of selves, and thereby destabilising a fixed identity, The Albatross draws attention to the anonymous mode’s preoccupation with dissociation, depersonalisation, and derealization. An experimental text, intersecting at the level of criticism and autotheory, art and aesthetics, non-fiction, and autobiography, The Albatross demonstrates the creative value of the anonymous mode: it is a mode that constantly shifts and expands to incorporate experimental, intertextual practices as flexible methodology, actively displacing the subject within a text.