Date of Degree
American Literature | American Popular Culture | Continental Philosophy | Feminist Philosophy | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies
transgender novel, trans studies, theory of the novel, contemporary, queer studies
Minor literature is literatures of the minoritarian, not simply that produced by (cultural, ethnic, racial, gender-expressive, sexual, ability, age) minorities. Further Toward Minor Literatures operates from this decisive distinction to trace the contours and potentialities of one minoritarian literature, the contemporary transgender novel in the US and Canada. This study is premised in part on putting the fiction itself on a plane with theoretical and critical sources, creating a dialogue that does not privilege one discourse over the other. Minor literature is self-theorizing, perhaps even authotheoretical, in its expressing and fulfilling the mobile orientations of its minoritarian communities. This study does not attempt to build out the machinery of minor literature as explanatory or canonizing, but rather to test affinities between seemingly disparate literary works, as well as instigate the novel’s late-stage capacity as a minor form.
The spark for this study was touched off by Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1975). In this slim volume, the philosopher and the psychoanalyst introduce the characteristics and faculty of a minor literature, each playing a central role in Further Toward a Minor Literature: deterritorialization, political ubiquity, and collective value. However, one oddity of Deleuze and Guattari’s work is the singularity of its literary object, the corpus (and life) of a Czech writer who never completed a novel and published only a handful of (admittedly massively influential) stories in his truncated lifetime. If a theory of minor literature is to become a machine as dynamic and multifarious as the actual fiction it concerns, it ought to exercise its capacity to communitarian expression, rather than uphold the uniqueness of any one writer as representative. The introduction of Further Toward a Minor Literature is thus a quick succession of arguments: why this corner of Deleuze and Guattari’s expansive body of thought, why the novel as a form, what literary genres mean for this minor literature, what a trans-specific literary theory would or would not do, and how more recent formulations of autofiction and autotheory might apply to minor literature.
Part I of Further Toward a Minor Literature proceeds to unpack each of the three concepts within the category of minor literature, but does so in terms of resistance and self-determination, rather than simply as unique aesthetic conditions. As such, the terms of this minor literature are defined in contradistinction to those embodied by the figure of the Master, the normativizing conglomerate of the social who operates through various phobic public spheres, enacting his dictates and strictures on all, but most pronouncedly minoritized, subjects. This study presents various means of remapping through the minoritarian, surveying the Master’s territories and the boundaries of the phobic public spheres, and considering strategies for carving out space for minoritarian selfrepresentations. This latter concept, borrowed in part from sociologist and filmmaker Nicola Mai, acknowledges the ways in which outward and inward representations fold into the self for minoritarian subjects, particularly in light of the excess of definition and censure from phobic publics. Minoritarian deterritorialization, then, is first presented through the example of Jose Esteban Muñoz’s disidentification, and the ways in which this minor literature thematizes disidentifying as both expression of selfrepresentation and naming the objects of resistance. Muñoz considered Jack Halberstam’s Female Masculinity as just such a disidentifying project, and it is presented here in terms of its applicability to long-form fiction. Patricia Hill Collins’ recent work on epistemic resistance is also read as an instance of deterritorializing knowledge production, using institutional logics against their own systemic exclusion and erasure of minoritarian subjects. The politics of this minor literature is largely read as gestural; the content of the novels is by and large not political in any overt sense, though the form and expression certainly are, when read through a minor literary lens. Finally, the communitarian value and revolutionary potential inherent in minor literature is considered specifically against how minoritarian subjects in these novels theorize solidarity and persistence.
The applicative half of the study takes the components of minor literature and proposes three regions ripe for deterritorialization in trans minor literature. Part II considers time and history, observing the ways in which the novel’s durative capacities and responsibilities are largely frustrated by the minor literature at hand. The Master’s presumptions of development, linearity, and causality are mocked, subverted, or wholesale discarded by a collection of novels that is not prepossessed of its characters’ incremental growth. Similarly, Part III uses minor literature to challenge majoritarian assumptions regarding identity formation and the construction of passing. Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophies of becoming are measured against Paul B. Preciado’s, culminating with theorizing minoritarian misreading, authenticity, masking, and (mis)recognition. Having demonstrated a range of experiments with and provocations of two of the grand engines of The Western Novel—time and identity—Further Towards Minor Literatures turns in Part IV to a seemingly narrower focus: labor, as read through sex work. These highly gendered, criminalized trades bring together and concretize some of the threads of Parts II and III, as minoritarian characters participate in and muse about the sex trades in manners quotidian or extreme, depending on who’s asking.
Further Toward Minor Literatures concludes not with its own grand, deterritorializing gesture, but with a final case study: Torrey Peters’ almost shockingly successful Detransition, Baby. Though Peters is represented by other novellas in this study, her most recent novel is easily the bestselling work of long-form fiction by and about a trans person in the English literary tradition. Future prospects for minor literature are necessarily steeped in minoritarian horizons, dreaming and enacting futures unthinkable within the borders of the Master’s maps. Each of the novels in this study, as well as the vast majority of its critical sources, is in some way reflective of better worlds, ones not governed by heteronormativity, white supremacy, misogyny, and top-down class politics. Minor literature is a disidentificatory machine, but one that equally (mis)recognizes the territories in and against which it is written, constituting alternative vernaculars for encountering a willfully alienating world. Further Toward Minor Literatures is as such an aperture on alternative reading and critical practices, a counterdiscourse which challenges both the apologetics of neoliberal representation ethics and assumptive, positivistic epistemology.
Hammes, Aaron, "Further Toward Minor Literatures" (2021). CUNY Academic Works.