Writing [with] Despair and Suicide
Woo, Mei Fung
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Suicide’s noose invites temptation: Literary writing holds 'despair' at structural levels circulating around genre, cliché, metaphor, style, content, cultural and ethnic inheritances (to name a few). This PhD research works in a practice-led paradigm with its expressive practice as creative writing that attempts to express ‘despair’ in drawing out its limits to literary conventions. Writing Despair manifests subjective alienation through acts of writing, working writing into pockets of social and cultural constructs in relation to sexual norms, domestic worlding and ethnic belonging. In doing so, the thesis attempts to forge literary expression as a working-through, and a living-with, despair and suicide, by seducing the writing hand to perform itself, and to produce works that do not easily commit to a singular genre or law. The practice questions: Who am I who writes? Who am I who lives? What is the expression of near-death? Is it today or tomorrow? The close ‘copulation’ of writing (with) despair and suicide comes through the writer’s lived everyday experiences, providing an outside to expression, where literature and life coalesce, sustaining something beyond negative hegemonic tropes, metaphors and clichés. The research situates itself within a field whose contours are developed by philosophical-literary writers who question ideas of despair and suicide within scenes of writing. Key agents in this study are Maurice Blanchot, Georges Bataille, Lev Shestov, Emil Cioran, Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Osamu Dazai, Inio Asano, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, and Roland Barthes. These are writers-in-common for this research, not only because they write about despair in a self-reflexive manner, but also because they have been translated into English. The concept of alienation is partially founded by expression that mediates issues of translation and belonging. For a writer who writes in English, writing second-hand language, this study evokes the significance of encountering literature-as-translation. It offers poetic release from literary norms (or norms in general) through working across translation’s myriad of lacunae, giving a sense of loss within un-fixated sentences and grammatical misfittings, demolishing (authorised) identity held by origin or veiled by conception of ‘original words’. The creative work becomes a space for exploring non-judgmental concerns around issues of despair and suicide that may hold genuine warmth and affirmation for (its) readers. Working with a range of concepts and methods including, but not limited to, Blanchot’s literature and the right to death, Bataille’s parody, (with minor undercurrents in) Cixous’ fleshy writing, Cioran’s tears and Dazai’s no-longer-human, a series of writing practices and experimentations arrives in order to converse with shifting perceptions of literary imagination, narrating despair and suicide. The series (of three récits) include: situating the self in positions of liminal experience to bring touch and the personal into the gesture of writing; deploying sadomasochist language to play with narratives of excess and abjection; engaging streams of workless writing without any (instrumental) goal in mind; encountering writing’s ultimate desire-for-death in the last works of my writers-in-common, opening to auto-critique of the life of the one still living. With these methods of ‘fictioning’, Writing Despair offers itself up to (and against) laws of genre, to perform critical-creative acts that recast expressive practices with despair and suicide. The thesis is presented as a two-volume publication. One comprises a series of vignettes and literary montages, binding together the creative works: I AM NOT THE SUN. The other comprises an exegesis, providing critical and poetic orientations to the substance of creative expression.