America out of place: The Gothic relation between the South and the nation
Doctor of Philosophy
A study of twentieth-century U.S. literature must take into consideration the way in which the South has been posited as a distinct, gothic region within or, at times, outside of the nation as a whole. Unlike other regions of the U.S., which might signify progress and freedom (the North and Northeast) or expansion and hope (the West), the South always signifies either the horrors of slavery and its legacy or, at best, a place of comic backwardness. But what happens when the constructed divide between the South and the nation collapses? When essential differences between the South and the nation are difficult to "tell"? My dissertation is not about a traditional split between the American North and South, but rather interrogates the ideological distinctions between the South and the nation itself. By focusing on how bodies absorb or expel extreme and everyday forms of violence and impurity in literary, cultural, and historical texts, my dissertation works to blur the border between the nation and what stands as its abject, internal other. From narratives of eugenics to narratives of lynching, agrarian manhood to the function of the National Guard, I articulate how stories about paranoia, physical injury, and bodily interiors interfere with the smooth functioning of "America" as an imagined community. In my analyses of works by Erskine Caldwell, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, James Dickey, Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, and Toni Morrison (among others), I closely read moments of corporeal and categorical indeterminacy to show how the relation between the South and the nation is always a gothic one, one that can never fully be "told."
American studies; American literature