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Abstract

By attending to the aesthetics of imaginative housing, or dynamic forms of inanimate containers, this dissertation delves into ongoing negotiations of what gets to count as human and as animate. I track this concept across a historically broad array of American fiction and film from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) and Nathaniel Hawthorn’s House of the Seven Gables (1851) to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2001) and Steven Spielberg’s A. I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). In attending to “housing” in these texts, I seek to understand how aesthetic forms can unsettle the relationship between interiors and exteriors in ways that bring the distinctive characters populating these texts to life. Each chapter isolates and names particular instances of houses and structures that disrupt static or passive containment, a critical move that builds on Diana Fuss’s study of modernity’s sensuous and formative imbrication of material spaces with internal, psychological structures. Where Fuss specifically attends to how interiors have shaped writerly imaginations, this dissertation shifts focus to how material surfaces put characters into animating relations. Ultimately at stake in attending to the relational construction of artificial characters is illuminating the constructed nature of human character; in other words, housing can help show human character to be the artificial—and animate—product of intersecting types of structures normally understood to be inanimate. I focus on domestic spaces, for literary mediations of domestic relations have proven rich grounds for expansive possibilities for both representing and reimagining how bodies relate to each other and to their own, intimate conditions of embodiment and liveliness. Home ownership is a particularly provocative site for exploring how genres of imaginative housing have warped familiar settings to generate unfamiliar effects and new possibilities. When structure quickens character, access to and ownership of housing constitutes an ideological battle over the reproduction of life itself.

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