Date of Award

January 2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Sharon Carson

Second Advisor

Patrick Henry

Abstract

“Writing the Body: Embodied Forms and Animals Spirits” is comprised of a critical introduction and a novel. The critical introduction, “Embodied Forms: One Writer’s Journey from an Ableist Aesthetic to Disability Consciousness” is a literacy narrative that traces my longstanding internalization of ableist norms and their expression in my fiction, and my gradual embrace of the value of disability as an identity and aesthetic sensibility. In so doing, the introduction argues that dominant notions of “normalcy,” “perfection,” and “beauty” are deeply damaging to the disabled writers who internalize them because they encourage the creation of art that erases disability, both formally and in terms of content.

In analyzing “Animal Spirits,” the novel portion of this dissertation, the introduction cites Vladimir Nabokov’s dehumanizing interpretation of the Samsa family in Kafka’s classic story “The Metamorphosis” to show how standards of “normalcy” and “beauty” can be deployed to degrade the worth of poor and bourgeois whites, just as they have long been used to degrade people of color. The introduction concludes with a defense of the proposition that fiction can foster empathy. Specifically, it argues that politically meaningful, coalitional empathy can be created through the reading and writing of literature in which characters who are at once privileged and interpellated in confoundingly inequitable systems are shown struggling to make sense of their realities while seeking to build and sustain meaningful relationships with marginalized characters, including disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color.

The creative portion of my dissertation, my novel “Animal Spirits,” attempts to enact this coalitional dynamic. The novel is a cripqueer coming-of-age story set on a Mennonite dairy farm amid the 2016 presidential campaign. The narrative depicts the queer and debilitated farmboy Isaac Bauman’s repression of his differences under regimes of compulsory able-bodiedness. Yet though Isaac internalizes many dominant notions of “normalcy,” his stubborn longing for men and his body’s confusing incapacities gradually erode his faith. The novel is also the coming-to political consciousness of Isaac’s father, Clyde Bauman. Clyde has long cherished his quiet life on a dairy farm, but he is increasingly fearful that the plunging price of milk will destroy his livelihood, and increasingly troubled by the hateful – and entirely “worldly” – rhetoric of many of his neighbors who see Donald Trump as a solution to their farming woes. As Clyde seeks to deepen his relationship to God by divesting himself of his worldly attachments to his beloved livestock and an electoral politics of hate, Isaac’s tentative atheism turns into open scorn for Mennonite conformity. He changes his diet, throws himself into hookups on Grindr, and embraces a neoliberal vision of success through college. When Isaac comes out, Clyde is forced to choose between his Mennonite faith and his love for his son, and Isaac is forced to decide whether his eager embrace of conservative notions of perfectionism and inequality is justifiable given the violence fomented in the township by acolytes of Donald Trump. Ultimately, the strictness of Clyde’s faith softens a little, and he expresses support for his son amid his bewilderment, and Isaac comes to understand the value and dignity of his cripqueer body.

Available for download on Friday, June 11, 2021

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