Eric Ga-Ming Cheuk. What has cast such a shadow on you?: Monstrosity, Interpretive Excess, and the Politics of Representation in Poe's "The Man of the Crowd" and Melville's "Benito Cereno.". Honors Thesis, University of Washington. 2014.
My thesis examines figurations of monstrosity in Edgar Allan Poe's The Man of the Crowd" and Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno," focusing on how these figurations complicate representational logics which demand forms of bodily legibility that sustain and reproduce capitalist hierarchies of race and class difference. In doing so I take up J. Jack Halberstam's contention in Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters that the monsterâ€”itself an embodiment of improperly legible devianceâ€”is constituted through a vertiginous overproduction of meaning, extending his identification of monstrosity with particular bodies to physical space itself, and applying the conceptual framework he develops to the broader textual archive of 19th century American literature. Specifically, I argue that "The Man of the Crowd" and "Benito Cereno" leverage varying forms of monstrosity to not only dramatize the breakdown in physical space of representational logics that naturalize hierarchical arrangements of raced and classed bodies, but also to hint atâ€”and in the case of Melville's text, explicate outrightâ€”the possibilities for political collectivity that these logics obscure. In other words, monstrosity does not simply inaugurate the potentially subversive dissolution of a spatial hermeneutics undergirding 19th century capitalism; it more importantly ushers in and subtends emergent forms of political collectivity that shape space to their own unruly ends. By exploring how resistance is figured through the proliferation of meaning beyond its "proper" bounds, my thesis locates as a productive site of inquiry the richly complex intersection of representation, space, and the production and management of identitarian difference in mid-19th century American fiction."