Shameful, shameless, and abject bodies in the works of Annie Ernaux, Christine Angot, and Regine Detambel

Date of Completion

January 2006


Literature, Modern|Literature, Romance|Women's Studies




In this dissertation, I examine how the French contemporary writers Annie Ernaux, Christine Angot, and Régine Detambel express shame through a minimalist approach to writing. These authors, following a contemporary literary and media-related trend, dare to say it all, exposing the body in different private states. However, their style is bare, economical, simple, and conveys the minimalist principle that "less is more."^ After defining the notion of minimalism, I draw on the fields of psychoanalysis, psychology, and sociology to outline the inherent complexities of shame. I demonstrate that minimalist writing is practical in conveying the intricacies of shame, and specifically its "wordlessness." I proceed with a literary analysis of each author's works to examine how they use minimalism to transcribe shame. Ernaux uses minimalist techniques to attain an objectifying distance from her past. Through the act of writing shameful episodes, many involving her body, she liberates her shame, accepts its presence in her life, and transforms it into a positive agent, one which allows her to write. Angot uses shame to disturb her reader by unveiling the incestuous body. Her works symbolize textually, through minimalist techniques, the "unsaid" innate to shame. By intentionally activating the shame of her reader, whom she incorporates into her works as characters, she places herself above shame. Detambel, through the circularity of her writing and attention to detail, represents textually the struggles of her protagonists to keep shame---a shame that leads to an abjection of their bodies and their own self---at bay. Her characters are marginalized and return to a more primitive state devoid of social shame. ^ I conclude that the theory of shame is trailing behind the literature of shame, and my examination of the works of three contemporary writers shows that the female body is still the catalyst of shame. Working on a language saturated with a history of shame and thus facilitating the verbalization of shame itself is an essential step towards the liberation of women (and men) from the shameful body. These three authors are indeed engaged in liberation of the body through new forms of verbalization.^