Savage Embraces: James Purdy, Melodrama, and the Narration of Identity

In Savage Embraces: James Purdy, Melodrama, and the Narration of Identity, Looi van Kessel explores the ways in which the early works of the American author James Purdy undermine the notion of a stable and true identity. Writing in the 1950s and 60s, a time in which identity politics enjoyed increased purchase in the United States, Purdy imagines characters who feel the urge to act out their sexual desires without having to conform to oppressive identity categories. In so doing, Purdy is searching for a language that shows how identity is produced through narration. To tease out this language, Looi approaches Purdy’s writing through the mode of melodrama—a mode that focuses on the aesthetic dramatization of tensions in the plot—while also bringing his work in conversation with current queer thinking. Ultimately, this dissertation attempts to bring the disparate fields of narrative theory and queer theory in a meaningful relation with one another.

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