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Tracing cultural un/belonging : the witch in Western feminist theory and literature Szachowicz-Sempruch, Justyna

Abstract

The aim of this study is to examine selected narrative and theoretical feminist constructs of the 'witch' produced by women in the Western world over the last thirty years. The hypothesis is that the 'witch' figure is deployed to convey the diasporic or transgressive status of the/a 'woman' whose position is constructed as incompatible with the dominant phallogocentric discourse. The texts considered have been written in English, German, or Polish, since 1970. Bringing in a comparative dimension from the beginning, this dissertation demonstrates that despite differing political, cultural, and linguistic contexts, common 'threads' intertwine the destinies of the women conceptualized in these narratives as feminist (newly born, or re-discovered) witches, archaic mothers, and transgressive female boundary breakers. These reformulations of the 'witch' into a multiple site of strategic un/belonging, as proposed by the textual analyses in this study, converge with a number of theoretical concepts, such as Irigaray's proposal of a feminine "fluidity" that could shift the social order, Kristeva's "different legality" associated with a provisional, carnivalesque, but also strategically feminist project, as well as Butler's subversion of (Western) cultural foundations by undermining gender distinctions. While representing a range of theoretical standpoints, different languages, and different cultural backgrounds, all the texts discussed here contribute to the feminist deconstruction and redeployment of a phallogocentric archetype of the witch-woman. What this coming together implies in the end is that transnational exchanges of feminist theories and narratives produce 'boundary work' - works 'on the edge' that reveal the witch as a set of constructs that is both contested and difficult to displace in contemporary representations of 'woman'. This recognition offers a point of departure for a new political theorizing on 'woman' that rejects the Western epistemological dichotomies of subject/object, I/the other, or belonging and unbelonging as basic categories of identification.

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