Moon Lake in love: the queer, poetic imaginarium of Tennessee Williams

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Cameron, Kirsty
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In the same year that Tennessee Williams’s first major commercially successful play, The Glass Menagerie, entered what has become its longstanding place of honour in the American dramatic imagination, in the 1944 essay “The History of a Play (With Parentheses),” Williams wrote the words which describe a significant aspect of his Romantic theory of art: “I think of writing as something more organic than words, something closer to being and action” (24). This dissertation considers aesthetic questions of style related to political affect in the intense world of Tennessee Williams’s prose and drama. My argument is that Williams is a Queer Romantic writer, whose works throughout his career articulate sustained political resistance to sexuality-based restrictions of the White-supremacist, heteronormative, and capitalist patriarchy of the American twentieth century. The force in language animating Williams’s writing is also the charge driving his vulnerable characters in their existential efforts to assert independent identities against constraint. My concept of queerness in Williams refers largely to the struggle for personal freedom in desire and creative expression, including expressions of self-identity, partially according to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s foundational definition of queerness. Due to the psychoanalytic sense of the self as being constructed, in part, as a relational, narrative-project, the experience of the body-self as it is restricted through imposed sexual definitions, which influences relationships with language, has socio-political consequences—a phenomenon in evidence for the Williams characters who queerly attempt to shift dominant narratives. Repeatedly in Williams, a character’s freedom is confined, and non-conformist characters experience danger within the socio-political world of the play. There is also a correlation in Williams between a restriction on expression and a limit on love, so that a sex/gender-based confinement in the narrative results in injuries to both expressions of the self and love. My exploration of the queer character in Williams, especially the character’s homeless displacement, draws from the genres of poetry, prose, plays, screenplays/films, personal essays, and memoir as I investigate Williams’s considerations of imagination, poetry and poetic expression, cultural stereotypes, shared narratives, and art pertaining to situations of social justice, in which Queer Romanticism is revolutionary possibility.
Kirsty Cameron, American Drama, Queer Romanticism, Twentieth-century Sexual Politics, Southern American Gothic, Narrative Identity, Spinster, Racialization