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"Male (Corpo)Realities: Staging Masculinity, Anxiety and the Body in the English Novel,

Isabel Karremann, M.A.
(Ludwig-Maximilian-Universität München)

This project examines divers stagings of anxious relations between masculinity and the body in the English novel of the 18th and early 19th century, as well as the gendered 'realities' these stagings (re)produce, negotiate or undermine.

The early 18th century witnesses an increasing desire to describe and understand the human body. As an object of scientific, aesthetic and philosphic analyses, the body is turned into a signifying system, a text that can be read and interpreted. This process both follows and reproduces the logic of an increasingly rigorous binary gender difference with the effect that it is predominantly the female body that becomes the object of culturally male systems of perception and knowledge. Male subjectivity, on the other hand, seems to become increasingly detached from a specific body and turned into an objective, rational, disinterested, and for this very reason, powerful gaze. The power of this defining gaze, however, seems to depend on the extent to which it can assign the body in question a stable, unified meaning and place in the male order of things. And it is this gendered order that is destabilized when the male gaze encounters bodies that defy its attempts at definition and categorization.

Articulations of a male anxiety about such slippery, uneasy bodies are not to be misunderstood as expressions of a somehow 'natural' fact, on the contrary. They are better understood as stagings of this anxiety as an in effect ambiguous strategy. On the one hand, by representing masculinity and corporeality as something apart they can serve to reproduce and negotiate hegemonic notions of male subjectivity as disembodied and of the culturally and historically specific social order in which it is implicated. On the other hand, by confronting masculinity with corporeality as inescapable and at times unruly, stagings of male anxiety about the body also carry a subversive potential that can undermine the hegemonic production of meaning about bodies and gender. Thus, irritating bodies often serve as a site for articulations of an anxiety about the posibilities and limits of cultural signification processes.

The literary stagings of a problematic relation between masculinity and the body examined in this study usually take the form of an uneasy encounter either with the body of an other – for example, the mysogynist identification of abjectal corporeality and the female sex, or the racist abjection of the body of ethnic others as non- or sub-human – or with the male body itself. Male anxiety in these encounters is staged in different modes, ranging from the tragic to the farcical: there are celebrations of disembodied masculinity as well as (usually failing) attempts at measuring and disciplinig one's own or other bodies; hypochondric (self)surveillance as well as an uneasy delight in the body's capacity for excessive feeling; disgust at the wounded, disintegrating or monstrous body as well as a masochistic indulgence in abject corporeality; but also the self-ironic staging of the unruliness of physical and textual materiality as a pleasurable experience as well as a radical deconstruction of male anxiety about the body as such.

This study will follow these divers (self-) stagings of masculinity and corporeality from the early 18th century (discussing Defoe and Swift) through the discourse of sensibility (discussing Sterne, Smollet, and other writers of sensibility) and the male gothic novel well into the Romantic age.


0 Entries found.



Isabel Karremann, M.A. (* 1976)

Studied English, Comparative Literature and Communication Sciences at Munich University, Germany and the National University of Ireland, Galway (1997-2002). Special fields of interest are gender studies, visual culture, Renaissance and eighteenth-century literature.

She earned her Master’s degree in summer 2002 for a thesis on Erotic Triangles on the Renaissance Stage which received the Martin-Lehnert-Preis of the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft for 2003.

2002-2003 Research Assistant at Tübingen University, Germany.

2003-2005 Fellow of the Graduate College “Cultural Hermeneutics: Reflections of Difference and Transdifference” at Erlangen University, Germany.

She is currently completing her doctoral thesis on the relationship between masculinity and the (male) body in eighteenth-century literature.


12 Entries found.

    King, Thomas A. The Gendering of Men, 1600-1750. Madison: Wisconsin UP, 2005. Vol II: Queer Articulations
    King, Thomas A. The Gendering of Men, 1600-1750. Madison: Wisconsin UP, 2004. Vol I: The English Phallus
    McMaster, Juliet. Reading the Body in the Eighteenth Century Novel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
    Nussbaum, Felicity. The Limits of the Human: Fictions of Anomaly, Race and Gender in the Long Eighteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003
    Choudhury, Mita, Laura J. Rosenthal. Monstrous Dreams of Reason: Body, Self and Other in the Enlightenment. Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell UP, 2002
    Robinson, Sally. Visibility, Crisis and the Wounded White Male Body: Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis. New York: Columbia UP, 2000
    Williams, Andrew P. The Image of Manhood in Early Modern Literature: Viewing the Male. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999
    Petersen, Alan. Unmasking the Masculine: Men' and 'Identity' in a Sceptical Age. London: Sage, 1998
    Deutsch, Helen, Felicity Nussbaum (eds.). Defects: Engendering the Modern Body. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1995
    Epstein, Julia, Katja Straub (Eds.). Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity. New York/London: Routledge, 1991
    Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985
    Barker, Francis. The Tremulous Body: Essays in Subjection. London: Methuen, 1984

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