Year

2008

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Faculty of Creative Arts

Abstract

This thesis seeks to develop a poetics of hope based on the writings of Simone Weil, French mystic, philosopher and political activist. In L’Enracinement (The Need for Roots) Weil emphasizes the power of a living cultural heritage able to provide individuals with links to what she terms the ‘reality beyond the world’, or ‘absolute good’. These connections inspire a form of hope that can become a catalyst for actions characterized by love and, ultimately, play a role in the creation of more just societies. Central to this is Weil’s use of the Greek term metaxu, which describes things that act as mediators, or bridges, between the human and the divine. Certain forms of literature, according to Weil, have the potential to become metaxu. Two key themes emerge in this discussion – the significance of roots, both for the individual and his or her community – and Weil’s preference for present-oriented, rather than future-oriented hope. These themes provide the theoretical basis from which a poetics of hope begins to emerge. This poetics is then used to analyse the works of two contemporary American women writers, Fanny Howe and Alice Walker. Weil’s metaxu is able to illuminate the hope expressed in the two primary novels discussed, Howe’s Saving History and Walker’s The Color Purple. Although there are significant differences in Howe’s and Walker’s approaches to language, in the emphasis they each place on reclamation and renunciation of self, and in their conceptions of the divine, the hope expressed in both novels is revealed in acts of love that emerge as the characters focus their attention on different forms of metaxu. Integral to this discussion is the emphasis Weil, Howe and Walker place on cultivating an attitude of attentiveness towards others, towards the beauty of the world, and in the act of writing itself. Not only is this form of attention critical for the characters in Saving History and The Color Purple, the formal qualities of the texts themselves also require an attitude of attentiveness from the reader. As a result, these novels, in addition to revealing the role of metaxu in the lives of the characters, also have the potential to become metaxu in their own right. The poetics of hope developed in this thesis suggests that literature, as metaxu, has the potential to inspire a form of hope able to transform uprooted individuals and societies, and to build communities characterized by beauty, love and justice.

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