Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Queer environmentality: Thoreau, Melville, Cather, and Barnes
by Azzarello, Robert, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2009, 247; 3378670
Abstract (Summary)

My chief objective in this project is to draw some connections between queer studies and environmental studies within the more general context of literary studies. I will propose an alternative understanding of literary environmentalism, rich in tropological abundance, poetic complexity, and hermeneutic indeterminacy, and I will magnify a queer sensibility, present in varying degrees, in this history, or what I call “queer environmentality.” In order to develop this queer-environmental literary theory, I perform careful exegeses of four key figures in the American tradition: Thoreau, Melville, Cather, and Djuna Barnes. Each writer problematizes conventional notions of the strange matrix between the human, the natural, and the sexual, and thus challenges the assumption that the subject of American environmental literature is essentially and consubstantially heterosexual. Each brilliantly demonstrates the ways in which the queer project and the environmental project are always already connected, that is to say, in which the questions and politics of human sexuality are always entwined with the questions and politics of the other-than-human world.

Like Charles Darwin, the four primary objects of my analysis––Thoreau, Melville, Cather, and Barnes––believe in reconsidering the human as a natural being, as a species, or type of being, that occupies a particular niche in the order of things, and, therefore, as subject to the explanatory gestures afforded to other species that also constitute and populate their particular biological kingdom. But figuring the human as natural does not provide a stable ontology, nor does it permit an escape from all kinds of epistemological problematics. Like Henri Bergson, each thinker takes seriously the profound connection between ontology and epistemology and offers long meditations on the super-saturation of life—human and otherwise—with desires and aims, with indeterminate geneses and inexplicably deferred endpoints. Thoreau’s sinewy sense of “sensuality” within the animal-human-divine matrix, Melville’s symbolic struggle with extra-human forces, Cather’s cryptic musings on the singularity of organic composition, and Barnes’s biologically inflected—perhaps infected—decadence all point to an environment as explosive with meaning, with “interlinked terrors and wonders” (Moby-Dick 139), as the creatures that dwell within.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Brenkman, John
Commitee: Kaye, Richard, Reid-Pharr, Robert, Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky
School: City University of New York
Department: English
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Philosophy, American literature, Gender studies
Keywords: Barnes, Djuna, Cather, Willa, Ecocriticism, Melville, Herman, Queer theory, Thoreau, Henry David
Publication Number: 3378670
ISBN: 9781109421484
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