"A Person-Shaped Outline": Constructed and Composite Bodies in Contemporary North American Short Story Cycles (dissertation project)
Dissertation in Literature
First supervisor: Prof. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: N/A
Third supervisor: N/A
In Her Body and Other Parties, the recent short story collection by Carmen Maria Machado, corporeality is central to characters’ subjecthood across stories that employ a range of narrative strategies. Machado is one of several North American women and queer writers to publish a collection in the past decade that combines formal variation with an emphasis on representing the material body and its role in the construction of a self. In these collections, not only are bodies constantly under negotiation—dissolving, transforming into animals, doing chores around the houses of those who have cast them off—but the narrative forms, or textual bodies, also refuse stability, combining elements such as epistolary lists, “fictive” testimony, and fabulism in tales that could be either psychological exploration or ghost story. Within these intersecting liminalities of form and content, space opens up for new possibilities of representation. Furthermore, because of these works’ thematic arrangement, it makes sense to refer to them as cycles, foregrounding their recursiveness, resonance, and multiplicity. Traditionally, the functions of the short story cycle form, with its tension between unity and fragmentation, have been underestimated in narratological study. However, the narrative iteration of cycles presents a compelling site for investigating gender performativity as itself a reiterative, recursive practice. These recent works also complicate such concepts, as have material feminist and trans theorists, with their focus on embodied experience. Drawing on the theoretical approaches above, and with consideration of the broader contexts of North American literary production and the feminist and LGBTQ movements, this dissertation will examine short story cycles by contemporary authors such as Machado, Roxane Gay, and Samantha Hunt, among others, to see how the multiplicity and tension inherent in this form lead to new representations of the body, concepts of particularity and performance, and the creation of identity around embodied experience.