Date of Award

6-2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Supervisor

Dr. David L. Clark

Abstract

If hospitality is, as it is for Jacques Derrida, the sign ofthe subject's absolute unpreparedness for and disruption by the sudden appearance and arrival of difference, then what can be said about the theme of the hospitable during a period of English and European culture which is as unsettled (and, indeed, as quickened) by revolution and rapid change as the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century? A theoretical nodal point of increasing anxiety in this age of political and international uncertainty, the category of "the stranger," I argue, points less to the existence of actual alterities beyond the consciousness of the Romantic "subject" than it does to an internal difference which constitutes that subject's own self-dividedness. Drawing largely from Derrida's recent work on figures of hospitality, cosmopolitanism, and forgiveness, and from Judith Butler's theories of subject formation, this dissertation investigates how Romantic figures for the stranger come to operate as normative phantasms whose function is precisely to ground and "naturalize" the repudiative discourses by which the Romantic subject produces and sustains its own self-sovereignty-its mastery over the house of the self. Yet because the process by which "proper" hosts and guests are parsed operates as a regulatory practice based on repetition and exclusion, I argue that the texts of Romantic hospitality are invariably haunted by the very strangers that they deny. Relegated to an unintelligible domain just beyond or "outside" the space of the welcome, these othered spirits return to the site of their disavowal only to reassert their constitutive priority in the hospitable imaginaries of these texts. This dissertation therefore claims that certain writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century (specifically Rousseau, Kant, Coleridge, and Mary Shelley) theorize thejailure of the hospitable relation from a suspicion that, after all is said and done, hospitality is itself structurally impossible. In other words, I contend that for these writers absolute or unconditional hospitality must ruin itself precisely by welcoming its opposite-hostility. What intrigues me about Romantic hospitality is, finally, the fact that while this particular form of discourse founds the sovereignty of the subject through the force of exclusion, it also produces the "stranger" as an inexhaustible site of resistance and reproduction.

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