Uneasy Assembly: Unsettling Home in Early Twentieth-Century American Cultural Production

Ammirati, Camilla, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McDowell, Deborah, Department of English, University of Virginia
Olwell, Victoria, Department of English, University of Virginia
Lott, Eric, Department of English, University of Virginia

“Uneasy Assembly” offers a critical re-thinking of representations of domestic space and subjects in American cultural production of the early 20th century. It brings together the different aesthetic registers of literary “high” modernism, the Harlem Renaissance, and the blues in order to contend that writers and performers as varied as William Faulkner, Djuna Barnes, Claude McKay, and Bessie Smith similarly unsettle and rearrange notions of the domestic in the face of cultural and political drives to standardize the American home. Directing attention away from entrenched notions of “domesticity” to what I call “domecility,” I examine how these narratives privilege questions of material space and lived experience over arguments for and against “proper” domesticity. Integrating recent scholarship on space and subjectivity, race and citizenship, and modern domestic fiction and material culture, this project shows how an array of early 20th-century works denaturalize domestic space and practice in order to trouble the links the state worked to enforce between supposedly “traditional” homes and domesticities, on the one hand, and ideals of citizenship and belonging, on the other.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American literature, 20th century, domestic space, American modernism, Harlem Renaissance, blues, national belonging
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