Troubling Houses: Dwellings, Materiality, and the Self in American Literature
This project will provide a theory of the troubled relationship of the American self with domestic space, a relationship that constitutes a core concern of American literature
(Chandler). It will do so by applying the epistemological tools of Domestic Space Studies (Briganti and Mezei), a discipline resulting from the spatial and affective turns in the Humanities, to the praxis of literary analysis. Our hypothesis is that the recurrence of this troubled relationship between self and domestic space in the American literary imagination reveals a deeper, core crisis of discomfort: the American self unreconciled with the notion of belonging. Our opening double, question, therefore, is "What is the nature of the critical relationship between the American self and domestic space, and what does it reveal about the unique relationship between self and belonging in the American experience?". The project will analyze the specific valences of power of the domestic space (Marx, Foucault) and the house as social system of transmission of conservative ideology (McDowell, Stea) while, conversely, and concurrently, of potential resistance to it (hooks, Jaggar, M. Friedman). It will also analyze the crisis in the binary of functioning self and idiosyncratic self in the domestic (Lefebvre, Benjamin, Morley), the struggle between intimacy (Segarra) and exposure to “the realm of the far” (Bauman), and the relation between the haunting memory of past homes and the construction of subjectivity (Bachelard). These questions have clear social repercussions for ethical, moral, and political issues, such as the engagement of the self with the neighbor (Andrés), the construction of community (Sabadell-Nieto and Segarra), and the ethical and political dimensions of cohabitation (Butler). The distinction of our proposal lies in the centrality it grants to the materiality of “house” and “dwelling” as well as "home" in American literature. We are concerned with the structure and organization of the house and with the objects that it contains, as well as with the inner life lived within it. The space defined by rooms and their contents both influences and expresses the consciousness of those who inhabit them. We aim, thus, to analyze how the material structure of home as object —house— and lived location—aggregation of experiences— both influences and is informed by the selves imagining and inhabiting them. Building on, but not content with, the analyses of specific authors and texts (Chandler), we believe it is necessary to provide an overarching theorization to account for the near-ubiquitous, troubled relationship between the self and domestic space in the American literary imagination. Our project is articulated around two central hypotheses: 1) the troubled relationship of characters with their dwelling spaces in American literature is an indicator of the discomfort of the American self with an ideology that he or she perceives as inherently conservative, 2) both the domestic space and the literary text need to be reevaluated in light of each other as mutually constitutive metaphors, since “to attribute substance and materiality to architecture, and imagination and metaphor to literature, misreads both artistic forms” (Fuss). The theorization resulting from this project will provide an innovative and much needed framework from which to read, to research, and to teach the literary imagination of the United States of America.
- To make a significant and original contribution to the field of American Literature, and to the growing interdisciplinary fields of Domestic Space Studies and Studies of the Home.
- To produce research results that intervene in the ongoing international scientific inquiry on the role of houses in the American literary imagination through the publications in both collections of essays and specialized journals.
- To give maximum visibility to the results of our research by participating in national and international conferences, as well as by organizing a symposium.
- To consolidate our collaborations with national and international researchers doing work related to the “Spatial Turn” as well as with specialists in the study of the specific authors and literary texts selected by the members of the team.