The Dialectics of Form: Reification and Genre in Early Twentieth-Century American Literature
Macellaro, Kimberly Ann
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation foregrounds genre as a politically-charged modality in early twentieth-century American literature, specifically the entangled relations between realism, romance, and naturalism through which the shifting formations of race and gender reproduce or challenge transnational capitalism’s reifying processes. My readings of articulations of racialized and gendered subjectivity during two pivotal periods in US history offers a new way of understanding the historical conditions underlying the emergence and circulation of reified identities and addresses many puzzling textual ambiguities as the cultural effects of the reified abstraction of labor. Reification’s relation to labor frames the dissertation’s four chapters, appearing in the opening chapter as unconscious forgetting and in the final chapter as deliberate remembering. In the dissertation’s first part I devote attention to under-theorized representations of white heteronormative masculinity. I situate the emerging configurations of racialized heterosexuality at the interface of consumer culture’s social engineering of subjects of desire. In the dissertation’s second part, I turn to two narrative experiments that more strategically and dialectically manipulate conventions of romance and naturalism to recast reified racial and gendered subjects as they emerge out of histories of transnational capital’s hyper-extraction of value from the colonial body. I draw out the narratives’ romantic utopian aspirations for overcoming racialized divisions between agency and structure, culture and labor. Chapter one on Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie foregrounds memory as a mediatory code for analyzing how reification relates to capitalism’s mechanization of labor and its effects on new white feminine and masculine disembodied consumer subjects. Chapter four on W.E.B. Du Bois’s novel The Quest of the Silver Fleece reads the epic memory of the slave’s labor congealed in the commodity cotton as crucial to the black utopian socialist project of de-reifying the racialized division between labor and culture. Chapter two on the stories of Sui Sin Far and Chapter three on the novel Cogewea by Mourning Dove theorize reification as a process through the splitting and doubling of racialized subjects to manage white anxieties about miscegenation. These chapters examine how texts featuring mixed-race heroines work with and against romance and naturalist conventions to re-narrate histories of colonial capitalism and overcome experiential disconnections imposed upon self and community. Reading form dialectically draws out the intensely cathected constellations of relations as they open up vantages for understanding totality, all be it ones that hover in the margins.