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Resisting the limits of the performing body

By Ph.D. Mary Elizabeth Richards


This thesis explores masochism as a performance trope investigating the relationship between the politics of cultural production and masochistic performance practices. By examining the work of a number of contemporary artists, particularly artists whose work is concerned with broaching or subverting the physical and psychical limits of the body, this thesis asserts that masochistic works present a provocation and resistance to patriarchal discourses of power, in particular those practices and disciplines of power/ knowledge responsible for the constitution of 'desirable' subjectivity. For the purposes of this thesis 'desirable' denotes both a Foucauldian sense of the 'docile' social subject conforming to the disciplinary technologies of society, combined with the idea of high modernity's capitalist driven economic dependence on the perpetuation of consumer 'desire'. In order to undertake this investigation, an understanding of theoretical and cultural masochism has been utilised in relation to certain forms of performance practice. Drawing upon an understanding of Julia Kristeva's notion of the abject and the cultural construction of the 'obscene' and their significance in relation to the constitution of the subject, this thesis analyses the points at which the abject, the obscene and the discourse of masochism intersect and interrogate acculturated ideas concerning the acceptable limits of re/presentation and the social subject. Through a discussion of the diverse range of perspectives on masochism, coupled with it's abject and 'obscene' inflections, this thesis considers the utility of masochistic actions in investigating contemporary subjectivity and its temporary, masochistically induced loss. In so doing this thesis extends its analysis to elaborate the cultural and socio-political significance of presenting/ representing alternative subjectivity through means of masochistic performances that work in opposition to the patriarchally constructed, sado-masochistic cultural economy of 'desire'

Topics: PN2000
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