Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Walden queers its readers. While many have investigated Thoreau’s queerness, there has been little notice of Walden’s queerness. This project begins with a situational analysis that identifies the melancholic antecedents of Walden in Thoreau’s life and his choices that led to the illumination of his melancholia. Thoreau had already been experimenting with what Branka Arsić identified as “literalization.” Nevertheless, a period of crisis, detailed by Robert Milder, made him aware of what Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok have referred to as the melancholic’s blind skill of “demetaphorization.” I suggest that Thoreau exploited this skill to produce Walden’s unique ability to feed on and, as Henry Abelove and Henry Golemba have suggested, awaken its reader’s desires. I combine a close reading of Walden with selective study of the text’s reception. Walden delivers on Thoreau’s theory of friendship from his first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Walden’s friendship with its reader is the agency that accomplishes what Henry Golemba and Lawrence Buell have noted as a blurring of the boundary between reader and text. To investigate this friendship and Walden’s accommodations of faux friendship, I construct a Burkean perspective by incongruity using research in the nature-writing and rhetoric disciplines that intersect with Thoreauvian studies. This incongruity is analyzed using not only Burke’s theories of literary form and literature as equipment for living, but also Deleuze’s process philosophy and Deleuze and Guattari’s analyses of the war machine and their spatial analysis. This project complexifies Erin Rand’s research on polemics, using Deleuze’s multiplicity not only to explain why polemics are unpredictable, but also to address what Sarah Hallenbeck has referred to as “the crisis of agency.” I suggest an expansion of José Esteban Muñoz’s research. The question of how one actually transitions from melancholia to disidentification cannot be adequately answered with terms like Stuart Hall’s ‘oppositional reading’ or Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘de/reterritorialization.’ I also suggest that queer utopian thinking and poststructuralism are more compatible than previously argued. This dissertation is itself a polemic, straining the possibilities of friendship in the service of queerness.
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Leslie, Julia Morgan, "Thoreau's Melancholia, Walden's Friendship, and Queer Agency" (2017). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 4437.