This thesis comprises two sections: a critical research essay focusing on Joy Cowley's 1970 novel Man of Straw and the first 30,000 words of an original adult novel entitled A Fine Piece. In both sections, I undertake an exploration of the role of the transgressive erotic scene.
In the creative portion of my thesis, transgressive erotic scenes are central to the narrative. The implications of the erotic transgression are central to the advancement of the plot and the development of thematic elements of gender, power, sexuality, romance and nature. A Fine Piece traces the effects of betrayal on a family and the role of the erotic in maintaining social conventions in 1960s New Zealand.
In the critical portion of the thesis I investigate the impact of Eros and the desire for unity in Cowley’s Man of Straw. Using the lens of G. W. F. Hegel’s dialectic of recognition, I argue that deep unity and recognition between characters in the novel are largely held in check by the social constraints of 1960s New Zealand. True and mutual unity, then, does not arise merely from physical union but from an ethical decision to consciously value and recognize another person. When the erotic leads to union without this ethical component it occurs in the form of a transgressive act with far-reaching and even fatal implications. I also examine the ways in which Cowley depicts the relationship of characters with the natural world as an indictment against a society that has become increasingly unnatural.