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Title page for ETD etd-07252008-122655

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Seymour, Nicole
Author's Email Address nicole.e.seymour@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-07252008-122655
Title Foreign Bodies and Anti-Bodies: Queer Transformativity in Post-World War II Literature and Film
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Carolyn Dever Committee Co-Chair
Paul Young Committee Co-Chair
Dana Nelson Committee Member
Judith Halberstam Committee Member
  • the body and narrative
  • the body
  • narrative theory
  • transgenderism
  • developmentalism
  • body theory
  • narrative and the body
  • bodily transformation
  • bodily transformations
  • queer theory
Date of Defense 2008-06-24
Availability unrestricted
In this project, I examine a selection of literary and filmic texts produced between 1946 and 1995, a period I refer to as late modernism. I show how, in offering instances of bodily transformativity that we might call “queer,” these texts expose, rework, and offer alternatives to the epistemological frames which govern our understandings of bodies at large. Specifically, these texts make formal and theoretical critiques of dominant narrative form, and of normative vision – indicating that mainstream post/modern Western culture largely grasps the body not through biological data, but through the systems that govern textual comprehension. Taken together, these works represent a movement in late modernist textual production, one that takes bodily transformativity as a site for exploring the dominant standards that shape what we simplistically term “the body.”

While these works are distinguished by how they indicate that classical narrative form and normative vision affect understandings of bodies, they bring an unprecedented focus to this relationship. First and foremost, they show how these paradigms inform and are further perpetuated by developmentalism – the turn-of-the-century discourse of human growth that posits as universal, transhistorical, and inevitable processes including puberty, adolescence, and reproductivity. The works I treat here pointedly take developmentalism as a plot that effects either the validation or pathologization of bodies that conform to or run afoul of it. I thus trace both developmentalism’s late modernist life, and how literature and film have been formulated in response to, and formulated queer responses to, this paradigm.

Queer bodily transformativity is a concept I explore in order to show the contingency of bodily phenomena, their lack of intrinsic value: when they confirm the established limits for the human body, and the narrative means through which we know that body, they go unnoticed. Only when they begin pushing against those limits and means do they gain traction. Intervening at this juncture, I argue, allows us to see the cultural work that late modernist literary and filmic representations of bodily changeability can do – and for what ends.

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