Transgressive Dasein: An Applied Ontology of Sex and Gender

Transgressive Dasein: An Applied Ontology of Sex and Gender

A. M. Jansen

Language: English

Pages: 226

ISBN: 2:00143488

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This work intervenes in existing scholarship on nineteenth-century domestic discourse and women's labor by feminist literary historians, such as Lora Romero, Amy Kaplan, and Jane Simonsen, by arguing that while domestic discourse linked the ostensible moral and racial superiority of the white middle-class household to the politics of national imperialism, the alternative kinship imaginaries that emerge in the context of women's affective labor function as a critique of U.S. nationalism. For example, in Chapter One, "The Sentimental Erotics of Queer Female Caretaking," I argue that in Susan Warner's sentimental novel The Wide, Wide World (1850), Ellen Montgomery's eroticized "sisterhood" with her spiritual mentor, Alice Humphreys, is constituted through the affectively-resonant melodramatic gestures of physical and emotional caretaking, and in doing so, undermines the Protestant ethical and moral imperatives of nineteenth-century sentimental culture. In this context, and contrary to prevailing criticism, the melodramatic mode calls attention to the relationship between normative discourses of work and family and their dependence on a hierarchical, racialized and gendered division of labor. I locate these discourses within melodramatic texts, in part, due to the increasing popularity and prevalence of the melodramatic mode in the forms of mass entertainment that were emergent in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. However, rather than approach melodrama as a simplistic generic category invested in moral binaries and atomized representations of social identities, I use the work of Peter Brooks, Tania Modleski, and Linda Williams, as a jumping-off point for redefining melodrama as a multi-generic mode, dependent on contradictions, fissures, and intertextual tension---particularly those between sentiment, music, drama, and realism---that create textual space for conflicts over meaning. Melodrama encapsulates debates over the meaning and significance of work and family at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century. For example, while Chapter Two, "The Affective Geography of Female-Centered Communities," focuses primarily on women's regionalist fiction---a genre not conventionally understood as "melodramatic"---I use Mary Wilkins Freeman's short stories to demonstrate how regionalist fiction deployed melodrama in order to implicitly critique realism's urge to manage social change by privileging objective forms of knowledge and rational sense-making over the emotional excesses of melodrama and sensationalism. By articulating a metonymic relationship between women's subsistence labor and the work of storytelling, women's regionalist fiction also helped re-imagine both the physical and dialogic space of the nation, repositioning same-sex relationships between women at its center. Indeed, by focusing on melodrama's characteristic use of non-verbal aesthetic features, including gesture, music, excessive affect, and intertextual citation women's affective labor becomes readable as a social practice that participated in re-negotiating the meaning of "family" in a period of rapid social and technological change that continued through the Great Depression. In Chapter Three, "'Home' On-Stage in Sister Carrie (1901)," I argue that the series of multimedia domestic performances that Carrie engages in, not only "re-stage" the sentimental domestic scene that we explore in my first chapter, but articulate the degree to which familial roles were increasingly mediated by patterns of consumption that emerged conterminously with the rise of mass media at the beginning of the of the twentieth century.


















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