Following the liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, as subterranean agitations began to unfurl regarding traditional institutions, the most decentered subject to fragment within postmodernity was the system of patriarchy. Since masculinity predominantly relies upon historical institutions and economic structures, the crisis of postmodern masculinity has largely been attributed to transitions in global economic and gender orders, in which men have tended to react aggressively and defensively or exhibit discomforting anxieties against the impacts of postmodernity. This thesis analyzes the fluctuating system of American patriarchy as it is represented in postmodern art and literature at the end of the twentieth century.
In chapter one, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Tony Kushner convey the plights of marginalized masculinities entering the public sphere and question the contingency of multicultural progress. Chapter two analyzes the waning control of masculine hegemony from “pomophobic” narratives by Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, and Dennis Cooper. It also presents art by Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, and Ron Athey that interrogates the epistemology of seeing and being that defines male identity. Chapter three focuses on the postfeminist pornography debates from Margaret Atwood, Karen Finley, and Kathy Acker that further complicate questions of sexuality, gender politics, and the construction of patriarchal societies. Overall, this thesis presents a historicist paradigm that interweaves elements of Marxist, psychoanalytic, and feminist scholarship to examine the prevailing concerns of masculinity in postmodernity.
Cameron Clark '13
Hometown: Maryville, Tenn.
Double Major: English Literature and Art History
Senior Study Title: “The Crisis of Postmodern Masculinity in American Art and Literature”
Advisors: Dr. Susan Schneibel, Professor of Comparative Literature and Chair, Division of Language and Literature; Dr. Carl Gombert, Professor of Art
Recent Maryville College graduate Cameron Clark, described by one of his advisors as an “emerging scholar,” plans to continue using the interdisciplinary approach of his Senior Study thesis as his forages his career path.
Clark, a double major of English Literature and Art History, decided to combine both disciplines, connecting them with a common theme and utilizing multiple viewpoints in his thesis, “The Crisis of Postmodern Masculinity in American Art and Literature.”
“Characterized as an era of ambiguity, uncertainty, and invigorated political action, I have chosen seminal artists and authors to convey their perceptions of the time period at the height of its theoretical practice engaging in an influx of new media, popular culture, disease, and political disputation,” he says in his introduction.
The paper “looks at how representations of masculinity have changed since the 1960s” in contemporary literature and art, using the eclectic works of Margaret Atwood, Tony Kushner, Kathy Acker, Karen Finley, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bret Easton Ellis, Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe, to name a few. Not only does Clark look at this issue from the perspective of literature and art, but he also narrows his analysis to encompass the viewpoints of civil rights activists, feminists and the growing homosexual community in the 1980s.
“Postmodern authors and artists tackled the cultural crisis by interrogating the boundaries of social relations. They often deployed irony, humor, subversion, and a tension between reality and fantasy in their art to challenge audience complacency during an era of social strife and distraction,” he says in his conclusion.
Incorporating the many different viewpoints made writing the paper a challenge, Clark said, but added that he realized all the voices were important to fully delve into the subject.
His English Literature advisor, Dr. Susan Schneibel, said her initial thought about Clark’s proposal was that it was extremely ambitious, but she also knew that he needed to be challenged, and it gave her a fresh focus.
“The opportunity of exploring a new area of research with a student is always an exciting challenge,” she said. “This project exposed me to a totally new field of inquiry.”
Clark said he plans to go to graduate school, studying English and film, and eventually complete his doctorate to teach full-time at the college level. He wants to specialize in Nineteenth through Twenty-first century literature with a concentration in the 1980-2000 time period.
“It proves he’s able to do work on a graduate level,” said Gombert, Professor of Art. “He’s the complete package. He has the tools to analyze contemporary culture.”
Schneibel said Clark, a William Blount High School graduate, has always excelled in his coursework and that his efforts resulted in a “meaningful research narrative” merging both majors.
“The fact that he was able to shape this ambitious project and complete it successfully has helped his academic growth tremendously,” she said. “I have every confidence this project has prepared him for graduate level research in either or both of his major fields.”
The thesis will become a part of the College’s Lamar Memorial Library’s special collection of Senior Studies. Pleased that it was recommended for this honor, Clark said that it validates his work. Gombert said Clark’s analysis was terrific, and the thesis should give him options for graduate school.
“This will serve him well in the future,” Gombert said. “He is a cultural critic, and I imagine big things for him in the future.”
Schneibel, Chair of the Division of Language and Literature, knew that the thesis should become part of the library’s permanent collection.
“Cameron is forging new ground by applying two distinct lenses, literature and art, and merging them into a coherent and eloquent study,” she said. “It is a thoroughly researched product, one that is finely written and one that displays a nuanced and sensitive use of critical theory.”
In addition, this project has given Schneibel new material to consider for a future course. She read both the primary literature as well as the secondary materials in preparing to guide him. Although familiar with postmodern literature and feminist works of that period, the reading selections created new avenues of thought.
“So in a way, Cameron’s work opened up a new area for me,” the Professor of Comparative Literature said. “I would welcome teaching a comparative course in gender studies that focuses on the crises of both masculine and feminine identity in postmodern literature. That would be exciting.”