Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Faculty of Education & Arts

Abstract

Sea Garden was the first book of poetry written by H.D. in 1916. Read through the lens of Judith Butler's theory of performativity, the book can be interpreted as an investigation of gender and identity in ways that challenge the confines of heteronormativity. Ultimately, I will argue that the poems work in ways close to Judith Butler's sense of 'queer', although as will become clear, my 'queer' reading of H.D.'s Sea Garden differs from the dominant queer readings of her work that currently exist. To this end, I will then discuss how Sea Garden operates as a community of different speakers and how the poems as a whole operate both within and against a heteronormative system. The poems take conventional gendered imagery and proliferate the gender and sexual identities associated with this imagery so that identity becomes simultaneously a multiple and unstable construct. I argue there are three main locales within the landscapes of Sea Garden, each of which function differently in terms of external power and identity. The land in Sea Garden tends to function as the heteronormative world against which the poems operate, and a place in which the queer identities H.D. is exploring can be lost. The sea, in contrast, is unstable and changeable, and points to the multiple interpretations of identity that H.D.'s personae are attempting to establish. In Sea Garden, the shoreline is a liminal space, in which binary conceptions of identity are blurred and contested, and from where the possibilities of newly figured genders and identities can be investigated. In the first chapter I will outline Butler's theories of performativity. Butler argues that performativity is usually thought of as manifesting externally a presupposed interior 'gendered essence', but for her 'performativity' is a repetitive and ritualised act that naturalises cultural assumptions about gender. I argue that H.D.'s Sea Garden is best understood, in line with Butler, as performing and repeating gendered identities differently, and in ways that disrupt heteronormative aspects of the culture that H.D. found herself in. To structure the following chapters I have divided the poems in Sea Garden into three categories. The first I have called the 'Imagist' category, where H.D. is concerned with carefully delineating a single object. In this category, I will be dealing with those poems that seem to explore individual identity, and especially the conventions associated with femininity. In the second category I have placed the dramatic monologue and lyric poems, which I argue are concerned with desire and the gendered gaze, as they tend to exist between 'two', and therefore imply a type of relationship that H.D works to radically refigure. Cities, the last poem of the book, constitutes the third category since it functions as a type of conclusion to the ideas set up throughout Sea Garden. Cities is principally concerned with the social world, and the way in which the refiguring of gendered identity always takes place within the confines, and indeed on the margins of, an established community.

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