Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"Let Me Listen to Me": The Politics and Aesthetics of Self-Indulgence
by DeLeon, J. M., Ph.D., New York University, 2016, 301; 10192221
Abstract (Summary)

The term “self-indulgent” is rarely used approvingly, or claimed willingly. In this project, I challenge the conventional, derogatory use of the term, in order to ask: How does the label “self-indulgence” work on and affect subjects whose subjectivities challenge normative expectations and experiences—namely: women, gender-nonconforming and trans individuals, people of color, queers? How might we re-conceptualize the value and importance of “self-indulgence” in relation to both aesthetics and identity politics, in order to champion such devalued “selves,” and to transvalue self-indulgence in relation to these minoritized figures? I theorize self-indulgence as a methodology and survival strategy, and articulate a reverse discourse of self-indulgence that works against normative strictures of identity and experience. On the surface, "self-indulgent" seems to be an innocuous judgment, but its very casual use is part of its disciplining power. With my work, I take back and repurpose the term in order to make room for a more expansive idea of the value of non-normative selves, despite the suffocating societal expectations that govern our existence. This can be a matter of life and death for those whose desire for a livable life is seen as self-indulgent.

Self-indulgence, in my work, is not synonymous with self-satisfaction, but instead demands a more expansive understanding of the “self” at stake, in order to challenge and reshape the normative strictures of subjectivity. Focusing on seemingly straightforward performances of self-indulgence—including close readings of literary criticism on Gertrude Stein’s life and work; durational performance artist Julie Tolentino’s ongoing installation Cry of Love: Honey; and the gender politics of an annual lesbian separatist music festival—I propose self-indulgence as a kind of care of the self, and selves, that performatively imagines and enacts more vibrant ways of being in the world, and with others.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Pellegrini, Ann
Commitee: Browning, Barbara, Shimakawa, Karen, Turner, Kay, Vazquez, Alexandra
School: New York University
Department: Performance Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, LGBTQ studies, Performing Arts
Keywords: Ethics, Gender performativity, Queer aesthetics, Relational subjectivity, Self-indulgence, Stein, Gertrude
Publication Number: 10192221
ISBN: 978-1-369-33127-1
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