Poetics Of The Sacred: Divinations Of Identity In The French Avant-Garde
In response to the social fragmentation wrought in the wake of WWI, many French avant-garde writers integrated the findings of sociological studies of religion into their art. The authors considered here, including Georges Bataille, Michel Leiris, and Collette Peignot, believed that literature could effect a renewed religious sense of human communion able to redress the social and political fragmentation of interwar France. Integral to this endeavor was their conception of self-sacrifice, which they sought both to represent and practice in literary form. As I demonstrate, their vision of self-sacrifice describes a paradox whereby the expropriation of personal identity is reappropriated in the form of a negative otherness. While some scholars claim that such self-sacrifice unwittingly endorses the fascist collectivism of the 1930s, others defend it as an ethical communitarianism resistant to any form of state politics or group identity. My argument subverts this debate by illustrating how their religiosity is based on a theory of endless self-sacrifice, one that continually wavers between personal identity and an unknown, divine alterity. This self-sacrificial mechanism creates new hybrid identities, neither entirely shared nor singular, neither entirely collectivist nor communitarian. As a result, new raced, gendered, sexed, and political identities emerge in literary representations of selfsacrifice that 1) overturn normative political and ethical categories and 2) anticipate contemporary theories of identity formation. As such, this dissertation forcefully urges a reevaluation of established norms in the field concerning the status of religion, community, and personal identity in the French literary avant-garde.
dissertation or thesis