Imagined Queerness: The Role of Affect and Emotion in Queer Spectating



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In this thesis, I seek to establish a theoretical framework for examining the reactions of queer-identifying spectators to fictional narratives that center queer characters and storylines. I take queer emotions as my main object of analysis, pulling together scholarly work in the fields of affect theory, queer theory, and performance studies to better understand how emotions commonly experienced by queer individuals create the conditions with which queer spectators encounter narratives. Too much of the discourse on queer representation in fiction either privileges the reactions of heterosexual spectators or simplifies and flattens the experience of queer audiences. Therefore, I argue that queer narratives have the power to energize and empower queer spectators by serving as a discursive space where individual relationships to heteronormative structures can be renegotiated. To make this argument, I look at feelings queer hunger in the fantasy TV series Merlin, queer rage in the stage musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, queer loneliness in Joshua Harmon’s comedy-drama Significant Other, and queer displacement in Matthew Lopez’s The Inheritance to see how these works both dramatize and engage with specific queer emotions. Each chapter draws on responses from actual queer audience members (myself included) to demonstrate how queer narratives may generate a sense of potentiality in the queer spectator that extends beyond the limits of heteronormativity. By amplifying this sense of potential, queer narratives may begin to enact large-scale orientational shifts that allow queer individuals to reconceptualize our place in society. What this reconceptualization ultimately does is introduce a precondition for political action—the affective perception that change is possible and that a better, more queer world is within reach.



Queer Representation, Queer Theory, Spectatorship, Affect Theory, Performance Studies, Utopia, Phenomenology, Narrative Identification