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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Spanning the impossible gap : alternative spatialization in Djuna Barnes’s and Mina Loy’s Parisian writings Clegg, John Clelland


This thesis examines the ways in which queer/female authors engaged with, altered and represented interwar Paris in two prominent novels: Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (1936) and Mina Loy’s Insel (1991). Both of these texts are concerned with repressed queer/female subjects who engage with the city in a way that deconstructs bourgeois social mores. I argue that these novels, though often read as “placeless” or “ephemeral,” are, in fact, intimately aware of spatiality, and its potential to serve or repress dissident subjectivities. I employ a theoretical approach that is indebted to “geocritical” scholarship, both recent and ancient, at the core of which are works of: Robert Tally, Michel Foucault and Zeno of Elea. I begin, in my first chapter, by reading the represented spaces of Djuna Barnes’ opus, Nightwood. I examine how Barnes demonstrates disdain for dyadic partitioning of space, and how she instead sees generative potential in a radically osmotic relationship between places. I thereafter turn to Michel Foucault’s theory of “heterotopia” in order to delineate a reading that suggests Barnes sees in her form a potential to figuratively rebuild a world lost to her. In my second chapter I move on to a discussion of Barnes’ friend, Mina Loy, focusing mostly on her novel, Insel, but also attending to her poetry and political writings. Reading Loy’s writings in consideration of her relationship with two radical artistic movements – futurism and surrealism – I parse how Loy crafts spaces indebted to each group’s expressed scientific interest. I focus in on Insel and how its spaces are conceived of as analogous to non-Euclidean geometry, specifically as it was delineated in Zeno of Elea’s “paradoxes,” which were of interest to the surrealist movement. The culmination of this reading ends with my suggesting that Loy’s retention of Insel from the exchange economy was a gesture equivalent to a non-Euclidean conception of infinite space. I argue that these authors’ attention to alternative spaces, when considered together with their writing’s own formal qualities, as well as that of the art depicted within their texts, evidences a vital elucidation of space that thwarts the hegemonic, entirely logical, construction thereof.

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