Van Wienen, Mark W.
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
Department of English
This dissertation proposes that transcorporeality offers an alternative to Cartesian dualistic modes of embodiment in Walker Percy’s, The Moviegoer, Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Richard Wright’s, Native Son, and Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Opposing the division between mind and body as theorized by René Descartes, transcorporeality advances the body’s porosity, maintaining that the individual is enmeshed within the material world and that this entanglement consubstantiates consciousness. Examining the works of Descartes, focusing especially on the ways that Cartesian ideas have been applied in Southern culture, I contend that a Cartesian definition of subjectivity, based upon self-evident reason and independence of the mind from the body, does not accurately represent the experience of individuals considered overly-embodied, whether marked by race, gender, disability, or sexuality. Consequently, Cartesian dualism has provided a philosophical foundation for oppressive, discriminatory, and exploitative systems including colonialism, patriarchy, and anthropocentrism I conclude that these authors resist the division of mind from body, presenting an alternative, embodied definition of subjectivity that recognizes that material, bodily, and environmental contingencies consubstantiate consciousness. This perspective developed by Stacy Alaimo, Maurice Meleau-Ponty, and Mikhail Bakhtin informs this alternative. Walker Percy critiqued a Cartesian mind-body division at the root of the “malaise” among Southern writers. The splitting of the body from the soul does prove an essential aspect of each author’s consideration of what it means to be human. But, while Binx, Percy’s protagonist can forget his embodiment, existing in the world as an unmarked white male, Hurston’s, Wright’s, and McCullers’s characters’ embodiment exceeds normative bounds to resist racist, sexist, social and environmental restrictions. Where Binx’s problem is grounding himself in space, Janie, Bigger, and Mick must seek an environment large enough to support their growth. When these characters embrace embodiment, Binx proceeds into the healthcare profession with an understanding of the body extending beyond a Cartesian medical model that divides mental/physical; Janie pulls in her horizon; Bigger’s gains the ability to recognize the “white mountain” as embodied people; and Mick grows to exceed the gender-based restrictions society imposes upon her. In doing so, each offers a new embodied alternative to subjectivity that acknowledges its materiality and contingency. Each of these authors envisions a permeable, ethical, fully embodied South, no longer peopled by ghosts, reaching beyond itself, turning away from insularity, engaged in intra-active growth, and becoming. A complex web of historical, political, biological, ecological, and economic networks enmeshes the characters in these novels. Their integral selves emerge inseparable from this web, substantiated but not determined. A much more dynamic conception of subjectivity materializes that does not depend on dualistic racist and sexist hierarchies. New modes of being redefine what it means to be Southern.
Messick, Tiffany Morgan, "The Transcorporeal South: Bodies and Ecologies in Twentieth-Century Southern Literature" (2021). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 7435.
Northern Illinois University
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