Revolting Men: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood

2016-08-29T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Cynthia Barounis
This dissertation forges new avenues of collaboration between the academic fields of queer theory and disability studies by tracking the genealogy of what I call the “queer-crip” masculine subject as he has been envisioned by twentieth-century American authors ranging from Jack London to Samuel Delany. Arranged chronologically, each chapter addresses an era in which medical conversations about disability intersected with public conversations regarding perversely sexualized populations. These moments include 1) turn of the twentieth century discourses of sexual inversion, 2) eugenicists’ early twentieth-century efforts to control the fertility of the “feeble-minded,” 3) the rise of psychiatric models of homosexuality during the Cold War era, and finally 4) the relatively contemporary “post-AIDS” reclamation of viral metaphors among certain segments of the queer community. In each of these moments, this project demonstrates, queerness has been “cripped” by vocabularies of disease, defect and disorder, and then been resignified by American male writers in surprising (and even liberatory) ways. The first half of the dissertation outlines the subtextual queer-crip paradigms of American citizenship that inhere in the work of several canonical male authors, including Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. The second half focuses on two queer writers of color—James Baldwin and Samuel Delany—who are central to the gay and lesbian canon. Though the narratives that each of these writers offers are often radically different from one another, what they share, this project argues, is their ambivalent investment in a “queer-crip” masculine subject whose resistant or “revolting” masculinity appears to carry the power to reinvent American brotherhood in the twentieth century. This intervention is methodological as well as thematic, challenging some of the orthodoxies that characterize queer literary studies—in particular, queer theorists’ large-scale embrace of psychoanalytic and deconstructive reading practices. Though foundational and important, these methodologies often lead scholars to overlook the representational work that disability is performing in these texts. Championing biopoliticized reading practices over psychoanalytic and deconstructive ones, this project therefore offers a set of correctives to traditional queer readings of canonical works.