The metousiastics of culture

Electronic versions


  • Matthew Mild

    Research areas

  • PhD, European Studies, School of Modern Languages and Culture


This inquiry examines the connection of relativism with cultural identity in con-temporary European films and novels. The focus is on representations of marginal bodies challenging essentialist understandings of cultural identity, called metousi-astic. The method is semiotic and discourse analysis of literary and visual texts from a poststructuralist theoretical stance. The main texts are twelve novels and twelve films, chosen for the purpose of a cohesive discussion about four main thematic and stylistic features. Although this project started off from German and Italian works at the geo-historical borders of modern western and other European ideologies, the inquiry engages also with texts in other languages. Chapter 1 ad-dresses the questions raised in the introduction and provides their rationale in the shift from essentialist to more sceptical understandings of cultural memory and identity. Chapters 2 to 5 deal with the four relativist themes and styles selected. Authors and film-directors include György Pálfi (Hungary), Gianni Amelio (Ita-ly), Juli Zeh (Germany), Ian McEwan (Britain), Amélie Nothomb (Belgium), Alejandro Amenábar (Spain), Erik de Bruyn (the Netherlands), Lars von Trier (Denmark), and José Saramago (Portugal). Chapter 2 argues that relativist por-trayals of the body and the mind question essentialist norms of health. Chapter 3 contends that work and play supply a thematic tool apt to defy age-roles. Chapter 4 zooms in on the biopolitical implications of social bonds in which heteronorma-tive discourses are criticised. Chapter 5 extends this anti-essentialist or metousias-tic critique to intercultural relationships challenging ethnocentric narratives, which add the fourth and last comparative reading. The conclusion examines these tropes further. This final section further refines the argument that the four stylistic and thematic features analysed offer a new remodelling of cultural identity based on the relativist awareness of the social and historical shaping of the body at the margins of conventional norms.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • SMLC
Award dateJan 2015