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Kinship, Sexuality and the Novel in the Americas

ENGL 799.301

Modern states wish to identify themselves with the domestic family, but are domestic novels really allegories of the state? The homology between nations and novels has become a standard hermeneutic frame for criticism of the nineteenth-century novel. But recent studies have begun to focus on the distinct ways that novels imagine kinship, family, and sexuality. In this seminar we will study nineteenth-century fiction from North America as well as England and the Caribbean, placing these works in dialogue with selected studies in novel theory, the history of American Creole cultures, and kinship theory. Our goal will be to examine the ways this body of fiction participates in the shift from what Foucault calls a “regime of alliance” to a “regime of sexuality.”


How did the history of the United States as a settler society complicate the idea that the family is a micro image of the polity? How does fiction’s strange materiality of “unsensed sensation” (Jacques Ranciere) matter to the way novels represent desire, belonging, and family feeling? How did the legal “kinlessness” of African diasporic subjects shape the development of American novels? We will pursue these and other questions to investigate the ways that novels (unlike states) articulate indeterminate forms of social renewal and belonging.


Primary texts may include Leonora Sansay, Secret History; or the Horrors of San Domingo; Hawthorne, House of Seven Gables; short fiction by Maria Lydia Child, Victor Séjour, and E. A. Poe; Melville, Pierre; Hopkins, Of One Blood, Marquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold; Faulkner, Light in August. Theoretical texts may include Freud, Foucault, McKeon, Spillers, Berlant, Dayan, Butler, Sommer, Povinelli, and Ranciere.


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