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Abstract

Selfie Aesthetics: Form, Performance, and Transfeminist Politics in Self-Representational Art analyzes selfies by trans women and transfeminine artists to reveal how they produce new ways of being and relating in the digital era. Looking beyond how selfies are usually read—as a symptom of cultural narcissism or as a liberatory tool of self-actualization—my dissertation reveals a more complicated set of political, theoretical, and aesthetic issues within this contemporary self-representational mode. Combining readings of individual images with accounts of selfie spectatorship, I identify four key themes that constitute “selfie aesthetics”: the visual rhetoric of doubling, an ambivalence toward the logic of visibility, interventions into the archive, and the production of posthuman intimacies.,Each chapter is built around one of the four key themes. In chapter one, I move across sites ranging from the Whitney Biennial to Instagram to show how artists like Zackary Drucker and Reina Gossett employ the visual rhetoric of doubling in their selfies, using compositions that feature shadows, reflections, and mirroring to envision selves as multiple. In chapter two, challenging the overdetermination of selfies with visibility politics, I discuss how selfie creators including Alok Vaid-Menon and Zinnia Jones use camp strategies in pose, costume, and captioning to stage ambivalent visibilities. Exploring how digital video captures the affective temporalities of social media, in chapter three I draw on work by Shea Couleé, Vivek Shraya, and Contrapoints show how the temporality of selfie aesthetics opens up spaces within the archival record to reimagine personal, familial, and communal histories. Finally, in chapter four, turning to how Jones’ selfies have been appropriated by others, I unpack how the production, circulation, and transformation of selfies makes the individuated boundaries of the singular self porous, altering digital and embodied selves. Interrogating how selfie creators and spectators engage with these key themes, I demonstrate that selfie aesthetics articulate posthuman selves that are networked, relational, and multiple.

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