Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Melissa E. Sanchez

Abstract

“Queer with the City” traces how urban and environmental context have shaped the commitments of queer cultural production in the United States. This dissertation articulates an urban environmental lineage of queer cultural production through a literary and visual approach to the redevelopment of New York City from the early 1950s to 2020. The project argues that the losses of the early era of AIDS to which much queer cultural production responds are inextricable from mounting public anxieties about climate change in the late 1980s and from the aftermath of a program of urban renewal that demolished nearly 7.5 million residences in the U.S. between 1950 and 1980. The project reads the entanglement of queer, environmental, and urban experiences of loss in the postwar United States through a cultural archive that brings those forms of loss into contact with one another in its attention to New York’s postwar redevelopment. “Queer with the City” begins with writing by James Baldwin, James Schuyler, and June Jordan that directly grapples with urban renewal in New York in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. It then follows the geography of renewal to the landscape of AIDS activism and climate anxiety in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the writing and visual art of David Wojnarowicz and Eileen Myles. The project’s final chapter and coda attend to these entangled conditions of queer, urban, and environmental loss through the late-2000s trans ecological poetics of Julian Talamantez Brolaski and N.K. Jemisin’s speculative writing in the late 2010s and early 2020s. This alternate lineage of queer cultural production models how urban and climate futures invested in justice can draw upon queer theory’s decades of analysis of the inextricability of racial, sexual, and gendered marginalization. How urban and climate planning and policy distribute life chances depends upon their understanding of how structural inequality manifests. “Queer with the City” argues that a cultural history of postwar redevelopment in the most populous city in the U.S. demonstrates the connection between queer, urban, and environmental loss. This cultural history contributes to an understanding of how structural inequality mediates processes of urban change.

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