Queer Routes: The Eco-Aesthetics of Metamorphosis in Twentieth-Century Anglophone Fiction
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Queer Routes: The Eco-Aesthetics of Metamorphosis in Twentieth-Century Anglophone Fiction


Queer Routes draws on ecological and materialist feminist accounts of queer interactions between the human body and the more-than-human environment to interpret the metamorphic body in 20th century Anglophone fiction. The metamorphoses in this study are spatially realized as cultural and geographic border crossings, signaling an internal “crossing over” through external movement across national borders. Metamorphosis – whether the change is from a man to a woman, from a human to an animal or god, or from an able to a disabled body – involves the habituation of the body to a foreign natural/cultural environment; becoming transnational triggers a spatially-staged transformation that affectively reorients the subject’s embodied experience of the human and more-than-human world. The literary aesthetic of metamorphosis develops textual forms to capture the transformations both of external appearance and internal subjective experience, often engaging with the mythical, the fantastic, and the exotic in order to resist the rational and national tendencies of realist aesthetics. Metamorphosis operates as a critical performance that disrupts and deconstructs nationalized and naturalized forms of embodiment, especially those governing gender, sexuality, and race. This dissertation follows the genealogy of metamorphoses through three groups of 20th century Anglophone novelists: queer British modernists in the 20’s and 30’s who question sexual normativity (Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster), black British writers in the 80’s and 90’s who critique the racialization of immigrants in Thatcherite England (Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi), and South-Asia-based authors from the 90’s and early twenty-first century who expose how imperialism’s toxic residues still haunt postcolonial nation-state (Mahasweta Devi, Amitav Ghosh, Indra Sinha). Tracing the genealogy of metamorphosis through these three apparently remote traditions shows how, throughout the twentieth century, novelists represent the metamorphic body against a backdrop of political transformation, as processes of nation and empire alter and are altered by global shifts in power and production. This genealogy uncovers “the eco-aesthetics of metamorphosis”: a literary aesthetic that undermines normative biologism, along with the associate ideologies of racism, sexism, and homophobia. This eco-aesthetic outlines new forms of “trans” subjectivities that are distributed across time, space, and manifold bodies, both human and nonhuman, individual and collective.

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