An Archive of Shame: Gender, Embodiment, and Citizenship in Contemporary American Culture
In this dissertation, "An Archive of Shame: Gender, Embodiment, and Citizenship in Contemporary American Culture," I use the affect of shame in its multiple forms and manifestations as a category of analysis in order to examine complex relationships between gender, sexuality, the body, and citizenship. Through chapters on incest, gender normalization, and disease, I build an "archive" of the feeling of shame that consists of literary texts such as Sapphire's Push: A Novel, Jeffrey Eugenides?s Middlesex, Tony Kushner's Angels in America, and Katherine Dunn?s Geek Love, as well as materials from popular culture, films such as Philadelphia, court cases, and other ephemera such as pamphlets and news coverage. In order to construct this archive, I bring together seemingly disparate materials and create readings of American culture that illustrate how the category of citizen is produced by the shaming of women, the gender non-conforming, and the diseased. Using feminist theoretical models, I critique previous discussions of citizenship, the state, and the body in queer theory, which have reified the privilege of whiteness and maleness by evacuating the bodies of women, the gender non-conforming, and the diseased of their radical potential to undermine oppressive state institutions.
The texts I analyze in this project interrogate normalized processes of documentation and archiving, and through their subject matter as well as their form, these texts participate in the archival process?theorizing and exploring alternative methods of documentation, collecting, and historicizing and so illustrate how the discourses produced by mainstream history are built upon the maintenance of social hierarchies. By bringing these texts together, I am developing a theory of the archive and its processes, its bodies, and its feelings. Archiving as a practice collects and documents, and in that collection, develops a coherent narrative about a particular event or history. Critical theory is also a process of making meaning through the collection of events, documents, and texts into a cohesive set of terms in order to make particular abstract claims. This process is often obscured both in archiving and in theorizing by naturalizing the selection of the materials that matter. The alternative archives in this dissertation make that process explicit in order to foreground its erasures and elisions; they register material difference and the ways in which the archive is reproductive of social relations. The transient and unstable nature of the archives produced within the texts of this project makes them difficult to pin down and make coherent, but that is what makes them powerful and transformative. I read these materials as sites where questions about the official histories of the nation, which are constructed through race, gender, and sex, might be played out. The archive of shame I compile in this project, therefore, can be read as a collection of partial sites of struggle against oppressive power relationships.