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Queer Monsters Within: Trauma and the Emergence of Gothic Queer Discourse in U.S. Cultural Production, 1945-2011

  • Author(s): Westengard, Laura Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Haggerty, George E
  • et al.
Abstract

This project explores how gothic metaphors appear in American cultural productions concerned with non-normative gender and sexuality and why this gothicism spikes when American experience becomes traumatic. I claim that there are particularly gothic periods in the cultural production that follows collective trauma, and I focus on a single gothic trope for analysis in each of these historical moments--sadomasochism in performances responding to insidious trauma, haunting in historical fiction following the Watts riots of 1965, live burial in AIDS literature, containment in cold war lesbian pulp fiction, and vampirism in post-9/11 popular culture. Trauma shatters established notions of normalcy, disrupting the status quo and creating an anxious flurry of discourse--steeped in gothic tropes and metaphors--that often renegotiates gender and sexual norms. I identify the repressive uses of gothicism in these contexts and then examine activist redeployments in texts by LGBTIQ writers, artists, and theorists, such as Lee Edelman, Ron Athey, Ann Bannon, Migdalia Cruz, and Jack Halberstam. This analysis is concerned with questions such as: What are the temporal and causal links between the traumatic historical moment and the gothic-themed productions that follow? In what ways are gothic symbols used to negotiate concepts of gender and sexuality? Are they used to contain and regulate non-normative sexual or gender expressions, subvert popular understanding of "normal" gender and/or sexuality, or both? What other factors intersect with gender and sexuality to create this discourse (such as race, class, and ability), and how can an intersectional analysis deepen our understanding of the phenomenon? Finally, how has the subversive redeployment of gothic metaphors been used to speak to issues of social justice in response to oppression? In spite of the presence of this phenomenon in American literature and culture, the implications of gothicism in relation to American LGBTIQ experience have not been explicitly addressed within queer theory nor within American literary studies. My project builds on scholarship

in queer Gothic literature by identifying gothic queer theory as a mode of literary and critical discourse and by constructing a crisis-based historical trajectory for repressive and redeployed gothicisms in U.S. cultural production.

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