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Abstract

In this dissertation I examine the role played by “unease” in the Homeric epics, the Ancient Near Eastern Gilgamesh texts, and the Indian Rigveda. I position unease as an affect that the texts can provoke in their audiences through poetic devices that interrupt the narrative, drawing attention to ideological ambiguities, marginalized voices, and other details that endanger their over-arching values. Representations of labor and laborers are the focus of my analyses, since articulations of human work and suffering prompt further questions related to divinity, gender, class, throwing the internal contradictions of ideologies into sharp relief. The introduction frames my discussion of the “poetics of unease” by detailing the methodology through which I approach affect and ideology. I make use of an archive of literary and scholarly receptions to explore the historical dimensions of how these texts have provoked unease. I term my method a “philology of affect” and argue that it can be applied across cultures and types of affects. In chapter one, I turn to the Iliad and its presentation of a materialist conception of labor that undermines its metaphysical system of values. In the second chapter, I explore how the Odyssey represents the labor of poets as caught between political and ethical orders. In chapter three, I perform a diachronic analysis of the role played by communal labor across the development of the Gilgamesh texts. In chapter four, I read closely parts of the Rigveda in which certain forms of labor controvert the cosmic order, and serve to define the difference between gods and men. In my conclusion, I argue that unease is mobilized by these texts to produce certain kinds of complicit reading subjects, but that it can cause other subjectivities to emerge that are more sensitive to the affective implications of the representations of labor and human suffering in ancient literature.

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