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dc.contributor.advisorPrentice, Chris
dc.contributor.authorCarthew, Hugh
dc.identifier.citationCarthew, H. (2011). Unstable Ground: Reading Imagination and Intersubjectivity in Katherine Mansfield’s Problematic Texts (Thesis, Master of Arts). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.description.abstractThis thesis investigates how the prevalent tendency in scholarship on Mansfield diminishes and simplifies her treatment of intersubjectivity. Recurrently, critics analyse this theme by referring to the author’s own life; they invoke “facts” about -- for instance -- Mansfield’s emotional world in order to garner authority for their analyses. This tendency proves problematic when it can be shown that the texts harbour questions about intersubjectivity which are irreducible to such biographical thematisation. Indeed, the texts demand questions about the process of reading -- its complexities and difficulties -- rather than simply summoning some kind of biographical gloss from us. Invoking Mansfield’s life, some of her most respected critics would claim that she portrays intersubjectivity in two ways: she affirms it in her New Zealand stories and denies it in her European ones. In representing New Zealand, she could recall the ostensibly peaceable world of her childhood; in representing Europe, she had to confront the conflict which seems to have been rampant in her adult sphere. To supplement this development, critics such as Ian Gordon and Antony Alpers uphold the New Zealand stories as being more “authentic” in their portrayal of interpersonal relations. The challenge to this tradition from politically-minded readers of Mansfield has not been definitive. While it sometimes redresses the neglect of her European stories, and suggests that alienation is also visible in the New Zealand setting, it shares the investment of earlier critics in Mansfield’s life. Mansfield’s subjectivity -- or some hypothetical reconstruction of it -- remains the pivot on which most readings of her fiction turn. Questions about our access to that subjectivity, and the ethical implications of our attempts to access it, are silently or defensively elided. I argue that Mansfield’s representation of intersubjectivity eludes the facile dichotomy of the New Zealand/European stories in a way that is more complex than the simple use of the word “alienation” implies. As part of its revisionary agenda, this thesis displaces the New Zealand stories to which critics so frequently gravitate by instead focussing on Mansfield’s most neglected texts. I read these texts with the intensity that critics customarily reserve for “masterpieces” such as “At the Bay” in order to prove the probing exploration of intersubjectivity which lies within these ostensibly “slight” works. Stories such as “Poison” point to a fundamental problem in the relations between its characters: neither language nor behaviour can afford interpersonal understanding. Instead it is the opacity of the other which is omnipresent when some kind of rapport or communion is sought. This presages the important but fraught place of the imagination in the lives of the protagonists: lacking access to one another through some immediate means, they resort to imagining one another’s thoughts and feelings, exhilarated, on the one hand, by the special insight which they therein seem to attain, and confounded, on the other, by the indeterminacy which arises from the imagination and its plasticity. The subtlety of this dynamic suggests that traditional ways of approaching Mansfield’s oeuvre obscure the full reach of her investigation into intersubjectivity.
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
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dc.subjectKatherine Mansfield
dc.titleUnstable Ground: Reading Imagination and Intersubjectivity in Katherine Mansfield's Problematic Texts
dc.typeThesis of Arts of Otago Theses
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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