Feminist theory's concern with the subject 'woman' has generated a number of views
regarding the use of the term as defining her ontological status within discourse and
signification. The crisis of both the sex (female) and the gender (feminine) that
traditionally defined her subjectivity has forced feminist theory to reconsider its
definition of woman. Butler's notion of performativity has challenged the very notion of
a subject that performs his/her gender, as well as the notion of a body on which the mark
of gender is inscribed. If sex and gender, and ultimately our bodies, are discursive
constructions then where is woman's subjectivity grounded and what are the
implications of such an approach to subjectivity for political efficacy?
According to Merleau-Ponty "existence realises itself on the body." If the body is
the locus of subjectivity then it is to the matter of embodiment, as substance and as point
of concern, that we need to turn in order to discuss the development of subjectivity, and
gender subjectivity in particular.
This thesis deals with the notion of gender as embodied practice and looks at the
transgender subject—both transvestite and transsexual—as addressing the matter of
embodiment located primarily in transsexuality's desire to occupy material body. In the
association that it establishes between gender practices and an experience of the 'flesh as
the flesh itself as defining subjectivity, the transsexual body, 'the matter of
embodiment' as it has been argued, opens up a space for the reconsideration of the
matter of embodiment altogether.
Such concerns are addressed through a reading of the transsexual body via the
work of Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler in the first part of the
thesis. The second part develops the ideas stemming from these readings through the
work of Angela Carter with a particular focus on embodiments of woman/hood in Nights
at the Circus and The Passion ofNew Eve. Carter's interest in the material conditions of
woman, her concern with 'demythologising' women, as well as the bodily resistance—
the body's resistance to be consumed by and within discursive powers—embodied in her
work, serve as the space for a re-examination of the role of the body in the development
of gender subjectivity.