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Postmodern incest and the family metanarrative: *Class, race, and sexuality in twentieth-century American fiction

Robert Allen Aguirre, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


My dissertation is an analysis of the functions of the incest theme in twentieth-century American fiction. The dissertation's extended argument is an attempt to show how representations of incest function as a critique of American conceptions of family—family sustained and defined by ideological presuppositions such as classism, racism, and heterosexism. ^ I explain what I mean by “family” as a metanarrative and its subsequent connection to the incest taboo. I begin with a synthesis of nineteenth- and twentieth-century anthropological explications of the incest taboo to illustrate how it has been theorized as the very foundation for modern civilization. I examine these assumptions to interrogate the modern production of the “truth” of incest. ^ In subsequent chapters I expand on the connection between the family metanarrative and various forms of social control as they appear in particular subgenres of American incest literature. In my analysis of white trash literature I argue that misery and alienation are related to the socio-economic function of the sexually-repressive modern family. When linked with the rhetoric of incest and the family metanarrative, white trash literature illustrates the ways in which the family conditions the individual to bourgeois existence. ^ In my analysis of African-American incest fiction, I examine the role of the metanarrative of family in the maintenance of racism through the naturalization of power arrangements that sustain white hegemony. I argue that this literature exposes how the overt structural racism of slavery was replaced by the latent structural racism of family as a form of legitimized social control. ^ In my analysis of same-sex incest I reconsider how the incest taboo, theoretically, is a productive rather than a repressive force. I show how queer incest fiction is not so much a site for anxiety as a site of pleasure as it undoes the privileging of heterosexuality within and by the family through conceptualizing family in much more radical ways. ^

Subject Area

American Studies|Black Studies|Philosophy|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Aguirre, Robert Allen, "Postmodern incest and the family metanarrative: *Class, race, and sexuality in twentieth-century American fiction" (2005). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3167453.