Feeling American Literature, Reading American Literature: Object Biopolitics in the Traumatized Nation-State
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This dissertation outlines strategies for new queer reading practices of literature (grounded in feminist theory, affect theory, and material history) that allow readers to heal, recover from and even empower themselves in response to gendered trauma inflicted by the modern nation state. The dissertation itself is composed of a theoretical introduction and three chapters that serve as a series of case studies with each performing different variations on new queer reading methodologies that are affectively based and highlight multiple gendered themes that change with each chapter. However, a consistent apparatus in all areas is a push toward reparative reading that gives ample space for love and coping rather than paranoia, borrowing from Eve Sedgwick’s now legendary vocabulary, to fill the void left by sexual, gendered, and reproductive traumas. Reading may feel or look different in each chapter, given the texts highlighted, but the end mission remains the same: a strong desire to fearlessly confront affect, whether it is positive or negative. The first case study reinterprets emerging masculinity, homoeroticism, and the cultivation of patriotism in the post WWII novel, looking primarily at John Knowles’s A Separate Peace and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. The second case study investigates the developing role of psychiatric medications and how they affected public gendered emotional cultures through an analysis of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Lastly, the third case study explores women as both readers and writers as the respond to the horrors of incest, school shootings, miscarriage, and infertility. This case study features Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, and Sue Klebold’s A Mother’s Reckoning. It argues that the act of reading or writing the most shameful, buried gendered secrets may be a source of solace, even if those acts do not provide healing. Throughout this dissertation, I argue that reading affectively brings new angles and dimensions to the existing gendered constellations within our own lives. It is for this reason that reading is not passive. It is an active and self-aware act of preservation in a violent universe bent on destruction. Reading is a force for creation; it turns strangers into lovers, darkness into home, and silence into a resounding roar, the unmistakable clamor of triumph.