Spinster Ecology: Rethinking Relation In The American Literary Environment

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Spinster Ecology develops a practice of queer ecocriticism by articulating intersections between nineteenth-century American literature and twentieth-century environmental thought. Focusing on texts by Sarah Orne Jewett, Henry David Thoreau, and Rachel Carson in which attention to the natural world is interwoven with a particularly reticent form of social interaction, the dissertation argues for the relational capacity of interpersonal and environmental forces typically understood to preclude connection: distance and remoteness, absence and silence, backwardness and death. Rethinking these categories as relational helps both to identify and to remedy a theoretical impasse that currently divides queer theory from ecocriticism: namely, the fields' conflicting stances toward (reproductive) futurity and toward the status of desire, pleasure, and limitation. Early attempts at queering ecocriticism have tended to emphasize nonnormative uses of natural spaces or to trouble the conceptions of nature and "the natural" that undergird mainstream environmentalism. My project, by contrast, locates queer theory's contribution to ecocriticism in questions of temporality, sociality, and tone. More specifically, I identify the spinster as a model for paradigms of relation, transmission, and inheritance that are indirect or askance. Taking heed of spinsterliness not only as a characterological or biographical phenomenon but also in its formal and stylistic instantiations, I argue, can help queer ecocriticism better engage literature. Whereas ecocritics tend to apologize for the way in which their attention to texts distances them from political engagement and the physical environment alike, this project makes a case for literariness in part by making a case for the relational and ethical capacities of distance itself.

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American literature; ecocriticism; queer theory


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Samuels, Shirley R

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Sachs, Aaron
Bogel, Fredric Victor
Francois, Anne-Lise

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English Language and Literature

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Ph. D., English Language and Literature

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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