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“The Worlding Game”: Queer Ecological Perspectives in Modern Fiction

Cultural and literary theorists have been increasingly advocating for a posthuman ethic that challenges oppressive binaries of all kinds. In turn, the field of queer ecology, which investigates discourses of sex and nature for implicit heterosexism and androcentrism, has come to the fore. This dissertation, rooted firmly in this newer branch of ecocriticism, focuses on various inter-species environments imagined by early twentieth-century queer women writers. Each of their works, in different ways, challenges the naturalization of social hierarchies based on gender, sexuality, race, class, and species being reinforced in the burgeoning fields of sexology, psychology, and evolutionary biology. Their novels imagine worlds in which humans de-privilege spoken and written language as a primary method of ontological understanding, and instead use stylistic techniques to model a more inclusive and dynamic cross-species awareness. Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood challenges the scientific rationale that underpins trait-based social hierarchies, and in so doing, destabilizes social Darwinism’s gender-, sexuality- and species-based oppressions. The novel first exposes violence inherent in systems of social control, and then suggests an alternative model in which dynamic motion and collaboration define human-animal interactions. Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness invokes the new field of sexology to suggest more inclusive possibilities for intra- and inter-species relating. By narrating multi-species relationships marked by kinetic body play, her novel suggests that eroticism can be a harmonizing force, traversing deeply-ingrained social boundaries that sever communion for animals of all kinds. Virginia Woolf’s canine satire, Flush: A Biography, mocks human forms of social organization such as race and social status that rely on the classification of bodies across species. Flush’s narrative shows the extent to which these forms of sociality depend on the exploitation and mutilation of nonhuman animal bodies, and imagines a multi-species environment instead based on other relational elements such as energy, rhythm, and spirituality. Finally, Katharine Burdekin’s Proud Man argues that the human capacity for abstract communication is one of the root causes of all trait-based oppression, including speciesism. Burdekin’s utopia envisions cross-species communion absent of all social hierarchies, and proposes a radically progressive model of “worlding” predicated on true equity for all creatures.
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