Publication Details

Cosgrove, S. E. "Radical Uncertainty: Judith Butler and a theory of character." The Ethical Imaginations: Writing Worlds Papers - The Refereed Proceedings of the 16th Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing program, 2011. Ed. J. Conway-Herron, M. Costello & L. Hawryluk. Byron Bay: Australian Association of Writing Programs, 2011.


This paper will develop a theory of character based on Judith Butler's ideas of subjectivity and gender construction. It will summarise Butler's position and explore the practicalities of reading realist characters as performative repetitions. Then, it will discuss Butler's notion of agency and the subversive repetition, and how realist characters can demonstrate the radical uncertainty inherent in Butler's notion of agency s specifically when texts are rewritten in such a way that characters `question' their `original' depictions. The example of interest here will be Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea in relation to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, with particular attention paid to the character of Antoinette/Bertha. I will argue that reading for instances of Butlerian agency is an ethical enterprise because it disrupts humanist assumptions regarding character. Finally, despite the inherent problematics of assuming an intentioning subject in this context, I ask writers and readers to consider hidden narratives within narratives in light of an ethics of representation.