Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory


This dissertation uses a model of observation derived from Michel Foucault's "Discipline and Punish" to examine the relationship between writing and seeing in each of the writers discussed. The disciplinary model of the Panopticon, as Foucault outlines it, constructs a neutral observer, a figure supposedly "without qualities" but nevertheless implicitly male, in part because Western tradition has always constructed men as observers and women as objects of observation. But what happens when a woman takes up this observational position and attempts to become the subject of her own gaze? In "Prisons We Choose to Live Inside", Doris Lessing explicitly develops a theory of the writer as observer. Close reading of moments of observation in "Particularly Cats", "Going Home", "African Laughter", and "The Fifth Child" shows that Lessing's model of observation assumes she can freely take up a "neutral" position of observation without addressing the history of that position, whether in general philosophical terms or in terms of the particular experiences which allowed her to assume that position. In contrast, Christa Wolf is quite conscious of the structures of observational power in which she would construct herself as an observer. If the figure of a woman observing a woman observing which appears in "Kindheitsmuster", "Kassandra", and "Was bleibt" allows her to depict how the gendering of power controls and contains alternative perspectives, it does not allow her to overcome the structures of that power. Finally, Marguerite Duras' active manipulation of women's passive position in "Le boa" and "L'Amant" breaks the structures of disciplinary observation and allows her to construct a nondisciplinary woman observer. Duras also creates women, however, who are unable to transform the passive position of waiting which war compels them to occupy. This one position, which appears in "Hiroshima mon amour" and "La Douleur", is not susceptible to the transformation from passivity to activity with which Duras' figures otherwise construct themselves as observing women.

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