Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Plug, Jan

2nd Supervisor

Pero, Allan


This dissertation investigates the implications of overt textual erasure on literary and philosophical meaning, especially with reference to the poststructuralist phenomenological tradition culminating in the work of Jacques Derrida. Responding both to the emergence of “erasure poetry” as a recognizable genre of experimental literature and to the relative paucity of serious scholarship on Derrida’s “writing under erasure,” I focus on twentieth- and twenty-first-century literary and philosophical works in which visible evidence of erasure is an intended component of the finished (i.e., printed and disseminated) document. Erasure, I argue, performs a complex doubling or double/crossing of meaning according to two asymmetrically mobilized aspects of the text: textual thickness and responsibility. On one hand, erasure ensures that texts are doubled both within themselves and throughout their various contexts; thus, textual meaning is dispersed, branched, or thickened across multiple dimensions as texts are constituted in space and time. On the other hand, this sprawling, decentralized thickness is persistently juxtaposed with the fact of particular individuals’ responsibility for the concrete texts they write. In the course of developing my argument, I analyze Martin Heidegger’s striking out of “Being” in The Question of Being, Derrida’s use of strikethroughs in his early philosophical works, John Cage and Jackson Mac Low’s incorporation of erasure into their poetry of “chance operations,” Jean-Luc Marion’s negative theology, William S. Burroughs’s cut-up method, Tom Phillips’s erasure-based artist’s book A Humument, and contemporary erasures including Ronald Johnson’s Radi os, M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, and Jordan Abel’s The Place of Scraps. I conclude by discussing some of my own creative explorations using the erasure technique.