Traumatized Masculinity: Queering the Male Body in American Naturalism
Scholars typically code American literary naturalism as a hyper-masculine and heterosexist genre, which is perhaps the reason it has been under-addressed in queer studies. Only recently have scholars begun to re-explore the positions of gender and sexuality in American naturalism. As Jennifer Fleissner observes, female characters perform an ongoing, nonlinear, repetitive motion, which she terms female compulsion, as a way of surviving the tragic naturalist formula (9). Examining male subjectivity at the turn of the twentieth century, I argue that repetition compulsion, as theorized by Freud, allows the male body to reenact previous traumas as the wound that cries out (Caruth 4). My reading combines Freud's theories of trauma and sexuality in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) with pre-Freudian theories of affect. Discussing Stephen Crane's The Monster (1899), Frank Norris' Vandover and the Brute (1894-5) and The Octopus (1901), and Jack London's The Sea-Wolf (1904), I provide a close reading of counter-narrative moments which threaten to disrupt the narrative's drive for closure despite the narrative's attempt to suppress the body and its non-normative desires. My project builds on Lauren Berlant's discussion of hyper-embodiment by arguing that non-normative desires and alternative masculinities result in the monstering and embodiment of male subjects in naturalist fiction. Also, I apply Judith Butler's theory of gender melancholy to male subject formation and consider the ways in which compulsion and violence render the male body as the site of collective, historical trauma and cultural loss at the end of the nineteenth century.
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