The body's politics : race and gender in the "authentic" sixties

Levine, Andrea Beth, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, Department of English, University of Virginia

My dissertation investigates the liked discourses of "authenticity" and the body that shaped the cultural and political radicalisms of the 1960s. In the civil rights and anti-war movements, you "put your body on the line" to prove your political commitment. The politics of culture in the period similarly depended upon bodily representations; the African American male body, especially, signified cultural legitimacy to white male authors. My project demonstrates the centrality of a devalued feminine to these constructions of authentic masculinity.

The first chapter survey 1950s challenges to the 'inauthentic' postwar culture of affluence. Analyzing the position of women in the beat movement, I suggest that the period anticipates the gendered problematics--rather than the radical potential--of the rebellions of the 1960s.

A reading of Norman Mailer's "The White Negro" (1957) examines the relationship between race, gender, and authenticity. The essay depends not only on essentialist definitions of black masculinity but also on deriding white female sexuality and eliding a feminized Jewishness. The representations of masculine domination in "The White Negro" and in An American Dream (1964), work to master Jewishness itself.

In chapter 3, I argue that Andy Warhol's performative ethos, which rejected an authentic self, provided a creative prestige to male artists that escaped the women in Warhol's orbit. My analysis suggests that the liberatory possibilities of "performance" are not equally available to different subjects at the same historical moment.

As black nationalism displaces the 'liberal' interracial vision, representations of white female sexuality again mediate between white and black men. Two Sidney Poitier films, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, disavow the racist "mystique of white womanhood," but in so doing deprecate white female sexuality, thereby returning the white man to the center of the racial struggle.

By the late 1960s, the Vietnam War fed into a preoccupation with violent whiteness. Mailer's Armies of the Night and Michael Herr's Dispatches both evince deep ambivalences about white working-class men, whom they position as embodying masculine aggression.

Examining the corporeal bases of 'authenticity,' my work historicizes contemporary debates on performance, identity politics, and 'experience.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
anti-war movement, civil rights, politics, 1960's

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:09.

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