Reed Stokes (UCL) - 2022-23 Students

Creation of Identity in Proust and Genet

Thanks to Judith Butler’s work on gender, much has been made in recent years of identity
as performance. But if identity is performed rather than innate, it follows that some part
of that performance is intentional. Yet Butler does not explain how much agency we have
in the creation of our ‘selves’ or address the implications of intentionality in light of today’s
caustic discussion of gender and sexuality. My research focuses on comparing the work
of Marcel Proust and Jean Genet to discuss what reading these two giants of 20th
century French literature together might reveal about this very intentionality. Gilles
Deleuze writes in Proust and Signs, “In reality, difference and reputation are the two
creative forces of essence, inseparable and interrelated,” positing difference and
repetition as key forces of identity construction decades before Butler. I focus on how
both authors suggest a certain level of agency in their characters’ plural and sometimes
contradictory performances. Surprisingly, there have been few sustained comparisons of
the two authors to date. My project is unique not only in this respect, but also in that I will
be incorporating the work of Vanessa Ewan, one of the foremost movement instructors in
the UK, with whom I trained at Central to discuss intentional construction of character in a
performance context. This practical and theoretical combination will lead to a new
assessment of Proust’s descriptions of the theatre and Genet’s description of drag
performance (as well as his actual plays) and what this suggests about our conscious (or
semi-conscious) construction of identity in a non-theatrical context.

Primary supervisor: Prof. Mairéad Hanrahan, UCL
Secondary supervisor: Dr Patrick Bray, UCL

Back to the top