Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

School

School of Arts & Humanities

First Advisor

Associate Professor Susan Ash

Field of Research Code

200525, 200526, 200302, 200204, 200205, 200405, 200408, 200403,

Abstract

This thesis analyses André Aciman’s novel, Call Me By Your Name (2007), in light of its portrayal of a nineteen-eighties gay relationship that is not entirely defined by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Rather than the abjection associated with illness and death, I focus on the narrative’s evocation of pleasure and love for its protagonists, Elio and Oliver, who do not identify as exclusively gay. My argument focuses on Elio exemplifying and undermining Roland Barthes’ trope of the lover-who-waits as historically ‘feminine’ in A Lover’s Discourse. In doing so, I demonstrate how Barthes’s work prefigures Judith Butler’s gender performativity theory.

First, I trace performativity theory to its origins with J. L. Austin’s theory of speech acts, considering its criticisms and developments. I then apply this to Aciman’s protagonist, Elio, in the novel to argue that his waiting is a performative act that is ‘doing’ a gender. I analyse how the protagonist’s waiting shifts, becoming a sexual enticement that is analogous to the historical space and literary trope of the boudoir. Finally, I draw upon Michel Foucault’s work and the HIV/AIDS pandemic of the nineteen-eighties epoch to align the contextual origins of the French eighteenth century boudoir, and its English developments, to the historical setting of Aciman’s novel. I consider the pathologisation of the female body during the eighteenth century and how that parallels the pathologisation of the queer body in the late twentieth century. I argue that the boudoir actually operates, both historically and in the novel, according to Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of chronotope.

My aim is not to demonstrate how Elio is ‘female’ or ‘male’ as he ‘waits’ in the ‘boudoir’, but how his identity exists outside the binary of male/female and straight/gay. I argue that Elio is a queer identity that aligns to Butler’s performativity theory as he continually is ‘doing’ and ‘undoing’ gender. I conclude by reflecting how Aciman’s novel refreshes queer literature, avoiding perpetuated ‘coming out’ narratives and HIV/AIDS themes: the novel ceases the wait for a literary queer change.

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