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Interiority and Counter-Interiority in 19th and 20th Century U.S. Literature and Culture

  • Author(s): Hall, Graham
  • Advisor(s): Zieger, Susan
  • et al.
Abstract

In this dissertation, I analyze “interiority,” which refers to a particular mode of conceptualizing and living in space, as well as a mode of understanding and forming senses of subjectivity and agency. I argue that a unique understanding and practice of subjective and spatial interiority manifested and evolved in a post-Romantic cultural formation in the 19th and 20th century U.S. The interiority that I’m interested in involved an understanding of the subject as hermetic, autonomous, and relatively autochthonous, and an understanding of space as something to be fashioned as a neatly demarcated, insulating, and comforting enclosure. Furthermore, it mutually defined both space and subjectivity through resonances between these understandings and practices of what it meant to be “inside.” This subjective and spatial interiority, as I’ll show, both called for a movement inward and demanded a transcendence of interior spaces and subjectivities, and this ambivalence had real stakes for narratives and practices of freedom, mobility, and agency. I examine this interiority in the writing of authors like Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and David Foster Wallace, and in the cultural practices and discourse of suburban white middle class Americans. I also outline a resistance to this mode of spatial and subjective discourse and practice that I call “counter-interiority,” which involve alternative articulations of and orientations to subjective and spatial interiors. I’ll show how this counter-interiority, which emerged in the work of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Bob Kaufman, and William S. Burroughs, and in the discourse and practice of post-suburban punks, threatened interiority by encouraging the cultivation of practices and understandings of space and subjectivity that favored discomfort, fragmentation, and an interpenetration between inside and outside.

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