TitleGauguin, Gilgamesh, and the modernist aesthetic allegory
NameMcBryan, Jennifer Mary (author), Sifuentes-Jáuregui, Ben. (chair), Walker, Janet A. (internal member), Diamond, Elin (internal member), Sidlauskas, Susan (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - New Brunswick,
Gilgamesh (Legendary character) ,
Gauguin, Paul, 1848-1903. Noa Noa,
Tahiti (French Polynesia : Island) In art
DescriptionThis dissertation explores Paul Gauguin's Noa Noa (“fragrant” in Tahitian), a fictionalized “memoir” of his first journey to French Polynesia, which includes a transformative episode recounting a trip into the forest to collect wood for carving into sculptures. In Gauguin scholarship, this episode has provoked speculation because of the eroticized way in which the artist describes his relationship with his young Tahitian male guide on the expedition; several scholars have argued that this episode of Noa Noa is designed to trouble conventional bourgeois boundaries, while others have offered sharp postcolonial critiques. I offer a different reading of this episode, arguing that the forest journey in Noa Noa replays the journey to the cedar forest in the myth of Gilgamesh, and that the artist’s transplantation of this ancient Assyrian epic to a Polynesian setting adds a new layer to our understanding of the transnational and transhistorical nature of Gauguin's primitivism. I argue that as a painter in search of total artistic freedom, Gauguin used Gilgamesh to write into Noa Noa an allegory of aesthetic pursuit and to refashion himself as what Roland Barthes would call an "anachronic subject." This dissertation begins with a discussion of Gauguin's complicated mimetic behavior, positing him as an artist who is suspended between Romantic and Modernist aesthetic modes. It traces the lineage and development of Noa Noa as a multigeneric text drawing on many traditions simultaneously. It then proceeds to explore the discovery and translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh by French and English archaeologists and scholars in the nineteenth century, working as part of a larger imperialistic project fueled by nationalistic sentiment. It is within this context that my dissertation turns to the text of Noa Noa itself, comparing key passages with the Gilgamesh epic and demonstrating how these passages dramatize symbolically what Gauguin struggled to achieve aesthetically on canvas. I conclude that what has come to be known as the Woodcutter Episode in Noa Noa is not just about Gauguin's homoerotic desire for his Tahitian guide; it is about Gauguin's symbolic desire for fusion between thought and form in the work of art.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references
Noteby Jennifer Mary McBryan
CollectionGraduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Organization NameRutgers, The State University of New Jersey
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.