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AFFECTIVE HISTORIES OF SOUTHERN TRAUMA: SHAME, HEALING, AND VULNERABILITY IN US SOUTHERN WOMEN’S WRITING, 1975–2006

Abstract
This dissertation explores the affective impacts of historical trauma around slavery and segregation in the US South, arguing for the importance of understanding US Southern history through the ways in which it has lived and continues to live in and on the bodies of Southerners marked by race and gender and class and within emotional life in the South. The texts in this study—Gayl Jones’ Corregidora (1975), Dorothy Allison’s Trash (1988), Ellen Gilchrist’s Net of Jewels (1992), and Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard (2006)—engage the affective impacts of intergenerational and insidious trauma through portrayals of Southern women struggling to give voice or expression to experiences of trauma that oftentimes elude language or expression. Through works that are largely semi-autobiographical, these writers explore the ways in which racialized and gendered histories of violence and exploitation, and the felt experiences of exclusion and erasure from the dominant narratives of the South and Southern Womanhood that these histories perpetuate, get written onto the body, inscribed in embodied experiences of the everyday, including experiences of reproduction and sexuality. By excavating affective histories of trauma, they show how these living histories, inscribed upon bodily and affective experience, shape individual and collective experiences of shame, loss, and abjection in the late-twentieth and early twenty-first-century US South—but they also show how pain and loss and shame co-exist with pleasure and joy and power and vulnerability. In doing so, these narratives open possibilities of experiencing these living histories in different ways, of cultivating new relations to these histories, to sense of selfhood, and to sense of belonging in the South. They map an affective history of the South that is dynamic and multiple, and inescapably relational, challenging the foundations on which the fantasy of the US South has been constructed and asking us to reimagine traditional paradigms of identity and belonging in the South, to consider the embodied nature of trauma and history, and to develop new ways of listening to bodies and emotions and the stories that they tell.
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