Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Allen Dunn


From the violation of the incest taboo in Acker's Blood and Guts in High School to Pynchon's coprophiliac scene in Gravity's Rainbow, from Ballard's eroticization of the automobile in Crash to the ritualized rape and castration of Evelyn in Carter's The Passion of New Eve, transgression is central to much postmodern fiction. Such transgression has been read as a drama of liberation, wherein natural desires are vindicated and unnatural restraints are rejected. However, postmodern critiques of natural desire demand that we reevaluate the traditional notion of liberation and explore its reliance on conceptions of transgression that rely on models of desire that have been challenged by postmodern and poststructuralist theory.

The first two chapters of this dissertation look at the reliance on a naturalized understanding of desire in the ecstatic models of transgression articulated by de Sade, Bataille, Freud, Marcuse, Kristeva, and Deleuze and Guattari. Chapter Two elaborates a non-ecstatic theory of transgression, based on Foucault's rejection of the repressive hypothesis and Butler's concept of "subversive repetition," that recognizes the denaturalization of desire. Additionally, it argues that Butler provides a more adequate reading of the transgressive moments in postmodern fiction by allowing for the examination of how such moments are implicated in the structure of the law and how they can be both implicated in that structure and provide a critique of that structure by rewriting its normative associations.

The remaining chapters look at how Butler opens up new avenues for reading transgression in four postmodern novels. Chapter Three explores how using Butler V reveals the limitations of ecstatic readings of transgression for exploring the violation of the incest taboo in Blood and Guts in High School. Chapter Four uses Butler's conception of the lesbian phallus to read the Rocket as a site of resistance in Gravity's Rainbow. Chapter Five looks at the way Ballard's use of techno-bodies in Crash provides an alternative reiteration of sexuality and desire, and Chapter Six offers The Passion of New Eve as the best example of the critique that Butler calls for in Gender Trouble, a troubling of categories of gender identity.

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