Open Access Dissertation
Date of Award
In The Materialism of the Encounter I argue for the critical importance of queer sociality as a confrontation with global capital in which sexualities emerge as a material history necessary for rethinking the broader experiences of twentieth century modernity. To do so, I draw together a series of transnational texts--Henry James's nonfiction travel narrative The American Scene, Djuna Barnes's canonical Nightwood, and two neglected novels, Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler's The Young and Evil and Claude McKay's unpublished Romance in Marseilles--that exhibit a mode of sociality and literary practice I am calling the "encounter." While the specific parameters of the encounter differ from author to author, there remains a shared desire to negotiate sexuality as material history, a negotiation deeply interwoven with other, fractious modes of social difference and the larger differentiation under capital itself. In reading these texts as materialist, I detail the ways concentrated industrial production and the sites of commodity exchange are a necessary part of the history of sexuality, tracing queer encounters through the shared spaces of international capital, the port of Marseilles, the bars and cafés of Paris or Berlin, and the streets and parks of New York, that fostered queer self-cultivation. These sites, while enmeshed in the larger dynamics of capital, nonetheless emerge as critical zones of social and sexual understandings. In my readings, I demonstrate how the texts collected here counterpoise these material, heterogeneous dimensions of sexual life to the larger abstraction of capital, and specifically to the abstraction of desire from material, social practices.
Furthermore, I show how the critical power of this materialism is transformed into a range of modernist literary practices--primarily collage--that become a method not only for confronting the contradictions within capital but for negotiating the myriad social differences of modern life. The literary work, I argue, becomes a manner of cultivating a mode of queer sociality modeled by the formal practices of the text itself, where a criticality emerges through the juxtaposition of disparate elements of material life whose aim is a broader understanding of capital and the economies of desire. In so doing, the queer comportment of these texts works against the reifying tendency inherent in commodity exchange and sexual definition, instead exposing the variety of social and sexual dynamics always already present within capital. I describe such a dynamic as the materialism of the encounter, and emphasis its critical nature in James's interest in sites of male-male cruising, Barnes's negotiation of gender, sexuality, and history, Ford and Tyler's focus on the close proximity of violence, capital, and sexual definition, and McKay's productive and destructive clashes of race, class, gender, and international revolutionary politics. This tension between the formal modernist experimentations of these texts and the larger social domain of capital not only reveals the critical force of the encounter to a specifically queer sociality but also provides new avenues for understanding modernist formal innovation as an engagement with the uneven terrain of global capital.
Schmidt, Michael David, "The Materialism Of The Encounter: Queer Sociality And Capital In Modern Literature" (2013). Wayne State University Dissertations. 697.