Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1241-8415

Year of Publication

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Michael Trask

Abstract

Wild Abandon traces a literary and cultural history of late twentieth-century appeals to dissolution, the moment at which a text seems to erase its subject’s sense of selfhood in natural environs. I argue that such appeals arose in response to a prominent yet overlooked interaction between discourses of ecology and authenticity following the rise and fall of the American New Left in the 1960s and 70s. This conjunction inspired certain intellectuals and activists to celebrate the ecological concept of interconnectivity as the most authentic basis of subjectivity in political, philosophical, spiritual, and literary writings. As I argue, dissolution represents a universalist and essentialist impulse to reject self-identity in favor of an identification with the ecosystem writ large, a claim to authenticity that flattens distinctions among individuals and communities. But even as the self appears to disintegrate, an “I” always remains to testify to its disintegration. For this reason, dissolution performs a primarily critical function by foregrounding an unsurpassable representational tension between sense of self and ecosystem. Each chapter explores a different perspective on this tension as it conflicts with matters of gender and race in works by Edward Abbey, Peter Matthiessen, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and Jon Krakauer. Assuming an anti-essentialist stance, all the texts I study acknowledge ecological interconnectivity as a universal condition but maintain the necessity of culturally mediated and individually constructed identity positions from which to recognize that condition.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2018.150

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