Jillian Bruns Successfully Defends Dissertation

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Dr. Jillian Irene Bruns (advisor: Dr. Mercédès Baillargeon) successfully defended her dissertation “The New Medusas: The Rewriting of Misogynistic Myth in 21st-Century French (Feminist) Literature and Cinema” on April 10, 2020. Her doctoral research explores the reemergence of the Medusa as a feminist figuration in contemporary francophone autofictional and cinematic productions. While the origin of the myth of Medusa can be traced back to Greek mythology, she has reappeared throughout intellectual history in order to illustrate the unspeakable and unfavorable aspects of femininity. Her project repositions the gaze upon her through her instantiations in a corpus composed of women writers and filmmakers that are participating in the rewriting and the revision of misogynistic myth. Her dissertation first studies the myth of Medusa as a historical concept from Antiquity, through her appearance in modern academic works in fields such as psychoanalysis and 20th-century French feminism. Her study of Medusa also engages critical theory about the practice of writing myth and mythmaking. Using this hybridized and interdisciplinary theoretical framework, she looks at three instantiations of the Medusa and her gaze in contemporary French texts. Her chapter “Gone Girls” studies the figure of the teenage punk heroine in Virginie Despentes’ Apocalypse bébé and Catherine Breillat’s A ma sœur! Here the Medusa appropriates violence as a tool for achieving the aims of subversive feminism in a 21st-century context. In her next chapter “Petrified Colonial Pasts”, she reveals a destructive and colonizing female gaze in Marguerite Duras’ L’Amant de la Chine du Nord and Claire Denis’ White Material. Her following chapter “(im)Mortalized Mothers” looks at demythifying revisions of the mother-daughter relationship in Christine Angot’s Un amour impossible and Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie. She has named these six women writers and filmmakers the New Medusas because they revive the Medusa as a symbol of women’s power instead of an object to be scorned. Through the New Medusas’ gaze, their revisions of normative femininity permeate through our collective subconscious and become a positive symbol for women.