Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Postsouthern Melancholia offers a new way of conceptualizing the elusive concept of melancholia through contemporary fiction, particularly fiction of or about the American South. Critics have long discussed national literature through the lens of melancholia: an unceasing attachment to a lost object or ideal that a subject or culture internalizes. My project positions melancholia as a literary strategy—one that contemporary southern fiction frequently contests and critiques. I read fiction that has been called “postsouthern,” a term applied to texts that reassess the bedrock concepts of southern literature such as community, storytelling, and sense of place. While much scholarship has focused on a set of texts notable for lamenting the turn from a seemingly essential South to a simulated post-South—from real to fake—my project argues that this once typical lament is a cover story for familiar reactionary politics situating the region against global modernity at large. I examine melancholic responses to globalization in the stories of Alabama writer Brad Vice (The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, 2007) as well as Cynthia Shearer’s transnational take on the Mississippi novel, The Celestial Jukebox (2005). I then examine fiction thought of as American rather than southern—Percival Everett’s absurdist comedy, I Am Not Sidney Poitier (2009), and Colson Whitehead’s encyclopedic historiography, John Henry Days (2001)—to demonstrate the ways merely setting fiction in the South activates discourses about melancholia in wider American fiction. I conclude by positioning optimism as an emerging affective strategy within contemporary postsouthern poetics. It is precisely because twenty-first century literature traces a genealogy of melancholia, I argue, that it is uniquely capable of offering optimism as a counterweight to melancholia in the present.



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Committee Chair

Costello, Brannon