Aug 27 2009

Christopher Castiglia, Chapter 7 “‘I Want My Happiness!’ Alienated Affections, Queer Sociality, and the Marvelous Interiors of the American Romance,” From Interior States

by at 1:11 pm under Uncategorized

Precedent, Inheritance, and Limitations of Outer Physiological Signs to Signify Internal Nature:

(Related to Isabel and her inability to be read?–we still never know if she is, in fact, related to Pierre. There are hints, but we never know for sure.)

In the romance, the body’s outer signs are now in continual flux, and its inner meanings remain purposefully opaque. For Hawthorne and Melville, the supposed transparency between outer signs and inner truth or “nature” was deployed to establish a fiction of institutionalized inner truth or “nature” was deployed to establish a fiction of institutionalized genealogy (if bodily resemblance established family relations, those relations guarantee the passage of family “nature” from the past into the future). Precedent (in the form of family resemblance) was not simply a legal concept, then; it was a restrictive interior state, forcing citizens conceived as primarily members of privatized families into patterns of repeated “nature” that thwarted the possibilities of alliance with people outside the class position signified and ensured by family “nature.” The romance’s challenge to the transparency between external signs and inner truth–the assertion that similar looks cannot guarantee similar natures–leads, then, to a challenge to the legal logic of precedent in the form of as genealogical crisis. If outward resemblance cannot determine inner inheritance, the institutional logic of precedent–that the past will pass naturally into the future, whose character it determines–loses its foundational authority (Castiglia 258-259).

The unreadable, the unprecedented (the untraceable, the ungenealogical), and the romantic:

Freeing the present from the grasp of precedent not by challenging interiority, but by making the interior so deep that it becomes unreadable, so determinative that it cannot be reformed, the romance opens the innovative potential of the unforeseen, the unprecedented, the marvelous. And while these fantastic imaginings remain largely isolated in the intense privacy of the romantic interior, they also suggest new social arrangements, romanticism’s queer sociality. In calling the romance’s sociality queer, I do not mean necessarily to suggest anything about the sexuality of its participants, although their desires, affections, and pleasures are anything but heternormative. Rather, I am contending that romantic sociality, built on contingency, ephemerality, fantasy, and opaque and irredeemable innerness, runs counter to and distorts institutionalized sociality and its supplemental interior states, readable and reformable, that have become synonymous with public civility in the United States (Castiglia 259).

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