The work of death in the Americas

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Title: The work of death in the Americas
Author: Sayre, Jillian J.
Abstract: This dissertation is a transnational study that argues that a structure of mourning , spoken through and effected by the historical romance , underlies the narrative of national culture as it emerges in the Americas during the early nineteenth century . The writing , consumption and preservation of these texts reveal not only the psychic life of community but also the material basis for that psychic life . Writing and reading , the production and circulation of texts , plays a crucial role in developing this psychic life , and the historical romance was particularly important in the Americas for imagining a national legacy . Current criticism emphasizes the sexual coupling and generative romantic structure of the marriage plot around which many of these novels circulate . This criticism emphasizes the somatic nature of the genre , the corporeal language of romance that is read in the tears of joy and grief spilled by its characters as well as its readers . But while I agree that a libidinal energy is at the heart of both the narrative and its readers’ responses , I argue that the focus on sexual coupling neglects to consider another bodily discourse : that of death and mourning . Mourning enacts a simultaneous identification with and desire for a lost object , a fetishistic relationship that brings together the Freudian “to be” and “to have” and so invests the lost object with both narcissistic and communal attachments . These texts offer their readers the bodies within the narratives , as well as the texts themselves , as the material of a cultural heritage , constructing a nativism that ties the subjects to the land and to the community through a shared lost artifact , their history . Through mourning a common object , the subjects become citizens , native Americans that distance themselves from Europe while supplanting the Amerindian . In combining modern studies of material culture with post Freudian psychoanalytic criticism , the dissertation works to make explicit the relationship between death , citizenship and textuality in order to show the cultural work of fictional historiography in the making of the American nations .
URI: http : / /hdl .handle .net /2152 /9827
Date: 2011-02-07

Citation

The work of death in the Americas. Doctoral dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin. Available electronically from http : / /hdl .handle .net /2152 /9827 .

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