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The Feminine Aesthetic of Failure: Negative Female Subjectivity in the Modern Novel

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dc.contributor.advisor Marshik, Celia en_US
dc.contributor.advisor Gabbard, Krin en_US
dc.contributor.author Cunningham, Anne en_US
dc.contributor.other Department of Comparative Literature. en_US
dc.date.accessioned 2017-09-20T16:52:13Z
dc.date.available 2017-09-20T16:52:13Z
dc.date.issued 2015-08-01 en_US
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/11401/77219 en_US
dc.description 158 pg. en_US
dc.description.abstract " The Feminine Aesthetic of Failure: Negative Female Subjectivity in the Modern Novel" examines how the failure to adhere to restrictive codes of normative femininity functions as a form of feminist critique in novels by women modernists published during the interwar period. In these novels, issues of gender identity and the development of literary modernism intersect with a distinct feminine aesthetic and rhetoric of failure. In arguing for this feminine aesthetic of failure, I consider five works by four authors: Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out (1915), Nella Larsen's Quicksand (1928), Jean Rhys's After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930) and Voyage in the Dark (1934), and Djuna Barnes's Nightwood (1936). While these novelists engage with frustrations and despair more generally associated with modernist literature, they do not offer heroic or positive solutions. Instead these writers invoke a struggle with (and often a surrender to) the anxieties associated with modernity and marginalization, and they foreground the problematic social hierarchies in which they and their characters are caught. In many instances, their novels demonstrate a repeated disintegration of the feminine subject. These women writers made negativity central to their work, inviting a critique of the conditions of exploitation with which their characters live. Critics have argued that the novels' protagonists suffer needlessly, but I argue their failures challenge the ethics of conventional models of success, and offer a compelling critique of socially prescribed norms that also applies to the ways in which we as scholars determine canonical relevance and aesthetic merit. There has been little scholarship that theorizes failure as it functions specifically in the work of women modernist writers. My project questions the scholarship on feminism and modernism that would canonize neglected women writers on the same terms as their male counterparts by arguing for non-success as a valid mode of literary practice and feminist refusal. Yet failure as a strategy of resistance breaks down along class and race lines. Far from functioning in a monolithic way for all women, failure is specific to each character and author. While they share a common historical moment and similarly gendered protagonists, the various geographical locales and racial identities allow for analysis of how constructions of black and white female subjectivity are disparately informed by racialized hierarchies. These writers developed a modernist aesthetic that recognized the politically ambiguous work of negative emotions by focusing on minor feelings such as anxiety and irritation rather than the grander, cathartic feelings of fear and rage. J. Halberstam's concept of " shadow feminism" has been especially useful in mapping this aesthetic. While Halberstam does not discuss women modernist writers, she describes a feminism grounded in negation, failing and forgetting. Shadow feminism functions as an alternative feminist project that questions more liberal positivist feminist accounts and elucidates the alternative feminism that these modernist protagonists perform. My dissertation also contributes to recent affect theory that focuses on negative emotions and widens the horizons of feminist inquiry, namely Sianne Ngai's Ugly Feelings (2007) and Sarah Ahmed's The Promise of Happiness (2012). The modernist protagonists I examine remind us that feminine failure is not to be dismissed or buried away. Rather, their failures reveal alternatives to the narrow definitions of success often premised on unachievable narratives of happiness. My project helps us rethink feminism, women, and processes of marginalization. Thus, the feminine aesthetic of failure serves as a valuable analytic for reevaluating the contribution of women writers to Modernism. en_US
dc.description.sponsorship This work is sponsored by the Stony Brook University Graduate School in compliance with the requirements for completion of degree. en_US
dc.format Monograph en_US
dc.format.medium Electronic Resource en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.publisher The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY. en_US
dc.subject.lcsh Comparative literature en_US
dc.subject.other Affect, Failure, Feminism, Modernism, Novel, Queer Negativity en_US
dc.title The Feminine Aesthetic of Failure: Negative Female Subjectivity in the Modern Novel en_US
dc.type Dissertation en_US
dc.mimetype Application/PDF en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Deutsch, Lou en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Frost, Laura. en_US


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