English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-15-2019


This study demonstrates how American literary naturalism, roughly between 1870-1910, and U.S. print culture more generally, projected an aesthetics of (dis)integration. The term (dis)integration is particularly useful in thinking through the ways traumatic and disintegrative episodes coordinate and integrate U.S. publics. I periodize this work in the turn-of-the-century because it was then that realist literature coincides with the expansion of the national press and new media technologies like photography and film, all of which facilitated the widespread dissemination of crisis narratives, marking the period as the advent of what is popularly referred to as disaster culture in the United States. Through these technologies, I further argue that social and environmental crises underwent a widespread cultural sublimation into entertainment commodities and thereby normalized statist socioeconomic control. I apply the logic of social ecology to critique how U.S. literary naturalism and print culture responded to the naturalization and spectacle of poverty, addiction, racial violence, and natural disasters. My analysis also demonstrates how realist authors represent what I term negative ecologies, diegetic worlds characterized by replicative systems of social and environmental violence. I contend that literatures oriented to social activism only persevere beyond their own ideological constraints when they resist utopian visions and instead effectuate traumatic ambiguities that allow for the creative re-imagining of social futures.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Dr. Jesse Aleman

Second Committee Member

Dr. Scarlett Higgins

Third Committee Member

Dr. Jesus Costantino

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Daniel Worden




naturalism, disaster, social ecology, poverty, addiction, racial violence

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