That Teenage Feeling: Affect And Queer Adolescence In The Mid-Twentieth Century American Novel
"That Teenage Feeling: Affect and Queer Adolescence in the Mid-Twentieth Century American Novel," examines three queer coming-of-age novels: Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Richard Wright's Native Son, and Carson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding. At first blush, these works may not seem "traditionally" queer, as the protagonists are not explicitly gay characters. Yet these characters participate in non-heteronormative, even deviant, sex acts, display gender mutability or instability, and, most significantly, fail to "grow up." Their thwarted development is paralleled by the stalled narrative movement of the texts. These novels are derailed coming-of-age stories whose queer characters never reach maturity, and their narratives reflect the delayed temporality of perpetual adolescence. The teenage angst found in these works is not merely a character trait, but a narrative device. The "weak" emotions Lolita, Bigger Thomas, Frankie Addams and John Henry West experience, which include boredom, indolence, and disaffection, perform the narrative work of stalling the linear, forward progress of the text. Although a growing body of literary criticism is informed by affect studies-the interdisciplinary study of the way human feelings are socially and culturally understood and constructed-current scholarship has yet to account for the role weak affects play in literature and culture. While weak affects are often read as feelings that fail to effect political action, I follow Roland Barthes's classification of many of these emotions as manifestations of what he names the "Neutral," a figure for the disruption of meaning-producing paradigms-the social, cultural, and linguistic mechanisms through which interpretations of human experience emerge. As contemporary queer theory has noted, non-progressive, atemporal, non-reproductive narratives are often unintelligible in a society that values cultural narratives of progress, productivity, and reproduction-narratives queer sexuality disrupts. Rather than simply gazing at the ruined lives and bodies of queer kids in the U.S., well-trodden critical ground, "That Teenage Feeling" investigates the relationship between queerness, affect, and narrative temporality in these works in order to argue for a way of thinking of queerness as temporal.
Queer Theory; Affect; Narrative; American Literature; 20th Century; Temporality; Adolescence
Villarejo, Amy; Culler, Jonathan Dwight; Braddock, Jeremy
English Language and Literature
Ph. D., English Language and Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis