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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Desidero ergo sum : on the metaphysics of desire in Felisberto Hernández's "Las Hortensias" Mann, Niall B.


This thesis uses Lacan’s rhetorical understanding of human desire to investigate in greater depth the role of desire in Uruguayan writer Felisberto Hernández’s 1949 novella Las Hortensias. Chapter one looks at the dynamics of veiling and unveiling, of the female body, and of desire itself, which is both repressed into the subtext and expressed on the textual surface. Chapter two discusses the role of the sex doll—Las Hortensias’s privileged object of desire—in determining the identities of the characters who remain in its thrall. The next three chapters suggest that the story’s plot can be divided into two distinct phases: in the first, desire tends to follow a predominantly metaphoric logic, in which one love object is substituted for a number of others, while in the second it tends to follow a more metonymic logic, in which objects are displaced one after the other along a linear sequence. Desire in this first sense is the topic of chapters three and four, while desire in the second sense is the topic of chapter five. Chapter six looks at desire from a different angle: as an intersubjective, socially mediated phenomena, one which belies the notion that desire is an exclusively private, intimate affair. All chapters trace desire’s operations primarily in relation to the story’s protagonist, whose journey through the narrative is read as a kind of passage through Lacan’s three orders—from the symbolic dimension of desiring subjectivity, to imprisonment within an imaginary realm in which desire is derailed, and finally to a traumatic encounter with the real, with the unsymbolizable experience of psychosis. Chapter seven examines the forces behind desire’s derailment, while the thesis’s conclusion reaffirms its guiding idea: that Las Hortensias, by presenting desire’s promise of plenitude and presence as inextricably bound up with emptiness and absence, with philosophical issues of being and nonbeing, tells us something about its metaphysics, i.e. about the very nature of desire itself.

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