Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Bryce Traister and Steven Bruhm


This dissertation stages a series of readings that activate the inherent pull towards a queer aesthetic of “preposterousness” in the American Renaissance. In the introduction, I claim that American Studies and Queer Studies have been mutually implicated ever since F.O. Matthiessen’s seminal work American Renaissance. In this way, I bring to light the nascent strands of homoeroticsm and “deviant” practices that disrupt the teleology of normative masculinity in the nineteenth century. My intervention develops a queer heuristic through an exploration of the classical figure of hysteron proteron—the rhetorical inversion of the order of things. As a master-trope for my investigation, hysteron proteron allows for a closer investigation of texts on the syntactical level of discourse. Hence, through my textual methodology, I expose a backward-oriented aesthetic that confuses the norm of American progress, in order to build towards potential, or “eventual,” queer spaces. My authors employ hysteron proteron, or the preposterous, in order to champion a different vision of American masculinity.

The texts of Thoreau, Melville, and Hawthorne overlap figurally in ways that allow me to establish a sense of contiguity between them. Thoreau employs hysteron proteron in order to condemn the increasing materiality of nineteenth-century American progress. Thoreau’s turn away from modernity—which is a return to the wilderness—engenders the potential for a sexual mobility that travels along paths that the normative trajectory of nineteenth-century masculinity could not glimpse. Reading Melville through the lens of architectural theory, I am here interested in tracing keywords related to masculine and feminine versions of domesticity as they appear in the short story, “I and My Chimney.” The aim is to show how the confusion of different spaces and directions works to enhance the profusion of ironic clusters in the narrative. In my final chapter, I show how questions of time, space, gender, and the nonhuman are filtered through a number of “childish confusions” in Hawthorne’s literature. I read the preposterous in Hawthorne as being undercut by a network of surprising connections between orifices and parts, natural and artificial, which recall the figural compounds that informed Thoreau’s nature and Melville’s architecture.