The submerged son : a psychoanalysis of totalitarianism and authoritarianism in the East European and Latin American novel

Kitterman, John Vincent, Department of English, University of Virginia
Day, Douglas, Department of English, University of Virginia
Winner, Tony, University of Virginia
Ryan-Hayes, Karen, University of Virginia
Pellon, Gustavo, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

Novelists living under totalitarian and authoritarian regimes often mirror these political systems of oppressive control in the sexual relationships of their characters. Using the psychoanalytic framework originated by Jacques Lacan, this dissertation examines those relationships and argues that the conflict between authority and the individual results from a failure of the symbolic power of the father to separate the subject from the mother (what Lacan termed "foreclosure"), or a failure to do so in a manner which does not completely repress the mother in the process. Milan Kundera, like his literary father Franz Kafka, views the human condition as essentially circumscribed within both Oedipal and existential paradigms. In his The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Soviet-style Communism, like the Lacanian Imaginary order, provides a totalizing system which extinguishes the individual, who looks for some phallic signifier to give him an identity. Kundera's critique of totalitarianism extends to postmodern culture in general, with its leveling of distinctions. Vassily Aksenov describes a similar "submerging" of the son under a totalitarian sea of "unanimous approval" in The Burn. set in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, but this time the protagonists attempt to escape authority through the dissociative and subversive effects of jazz, slang, alcoholism, art, sex, and finally, Christianity. While Kundera advocates a return to traditional humanism with its differentiating battle between the sexes, Aksenov takes a more unusual position in his effort to use the very materials of oppression against the oppressors.

In Latin America the problem is not so much "foreclosure" as it is "machismo" with its denial of the Lacanian (m)Other, whose repressed body floats back to the surface in the abject images of Mario Vargas Llosa's Conversation in the Cathedral. The protagonist is forced to confront his own and his country's sexual identity when he unravels the mystery of his father's homosexuality and his implication in the death of a prostitute. Finally, Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman brings the debate over sexuality and oppression 180 degrees from Kundera's position, when two prisoners re-configure the phallic signifier through their own relationship. Although the novel ends enigmatically with one character's death and the other's torture, and although it warns against the methods by which mass culture replicates exploitative systems, the transformation of the two men to some extent evades the repressive system of authoritarianism and suggests that the breakdown of differences in postmodern society might not be so bad after all.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Comparative literature -- East European and Latin American, Totalitarianism and literature, Authoritarianism in literature, Totalitarianism in literature

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:34:52.

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: