Abjection and Sexually Specific Violence in Doris Lessing’s The Cleft

Text Matters - a Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture 4 (4):161-172 (2014)
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Abstract

The article applies selected concepts from the writings of Julia Kristeva to the analysis of a novel by Doris Lessing entitled The Cleft. Published in 2007, The Cleft depicts the origin of sexual difference in the human species. Its emergence is fraught with anxiety and sexually specific violence, and invites comparison with the primal separation from the mother and the emancipation of the subject in process at the cost of relegating the maternal to the abject in the writings of Julia Kristeva. Lessing creates an ahistorical community of females from which the male community eventually evolves. The growing awareness of sexual difference dovetails with the emotional and intellectual development, as the nascent human subject gradually enters linear time viewed from perspective by the narrator of the novel, a Roman senator who hoards ancient manuscripts with the story of Clefts and Squirts. The article juxtaposes the ideas of Lessing and Kristeva, who have both cut themselves off from feminism, and have both been inspired by psychoanalysis. Primarily, Lessing’s fictional imaginary can be adequately interpreted in light of Kristeva’s concept of abjection as an element that disturbs the system. My interpretation of abjection is indebted to Pamela Sue Anderson’s reading of Kristeva, notably her contention that violence as a response to sexual difference lies at the heart of collective identity. Finally, the imaginary used by Lessing and Kristeva is shown to have stemmed from the colonial imaginary like the concepts of Freud and Jung.

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