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Title:Radiant divas: In pursuit of the queer sublime
Author(s):Musser, John
Director of Research:Rodriguez, Richard T.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Rodriguez, Richard T.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ruiz, Sandra; Manalansan, Martin F.; Royster, Francesca
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:Radiant Divas: In Pursuit of the Queer Sublime considers the importance of the figure of the diva within a queer cultural imaginary in the long twentieth century. Divas, through a performance of the sublime, productively stretch the boundaries of queerness and race into new directions. I argue that divas stage the ontological connections between queerness and race, and that they reveal the spectacular ways both queerness and race are presented and preserved, in the body of the diva and the body politic that adores and identifies with them. This project is methodologically interdisciplinary, and I draw from literary studies, performance studies, aesthetic philosophy, queer theory, and critical race theory. I use this sundry method because the diva’s own body is constructed intertextually, mediated by print, stage, and screen. I have curated a genealogy of divas, focusing on four specific performers across the twentieth and twenty-first century—‘Ma’ Rainey, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, and Nomi Ruiz. Each of these performers help me to shape the history of queerness and race in the twentieth and twenty first century. And in contextualizing each of these performers within their cultural and historical moments of eruption, I can show how divas index the affects and disparate formations of queerness and race within the changing urban landscapes of the United States across the long twentieth century. In this dissertation, drawing from the aesthetic philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Edmund Burke, and Jean-François Lyotard, I contend that the sublime is always queer, and always racialized. These aesthetic philosophers, in speaking of the formless, disruptive power of the sublime, reveal its queer properties. While at the same time, Kant’s and Burke’s treatises on the sublime always function through the construction of a racial index or hierarchy. Thus, through the sublime, the diva always tells us something about queerness and race. And furthermore, in the performance of the sublime, the diva performs a kind of queer unmooring of the categories of race and sexuality more broadly, even as it seems to rely on the expansion and augmentation of those categories to derive its force and power. The diva choreographs and augments her gender, sexuality, or race on stage. And the sublime is the moment where the diva and her audience meet; the moment when an ontological impossibility—the racial and/or queer body—sensorially touches an audience. To a queer audience, the diva becomes the icon who is both ‘like me,’ and productively ‘not like me,’ stretching the boundaries of the body now and creating affinities and possibilities for the body in the future. The relationship between a queer audience and the diva on stage reveals to us an aspect of queerness that is always mobile, always in pursuit of something spectacular and beyond itself.
Issue Date:2019-03-21
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 John Musser
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-08-23
Date Deposited:2019-05

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