UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Trans liberation beyond comparison : the influence of metahistorical thinking on imaginations of bodily modification Siegal, Beck


This thesis explores the political and intellectual context of Hayden White’s theory of metahistory. I situate metahistory as developing parallel to identity politics and postmodernist frameworks, particularly in their application to theorizations of trans and queer liberation. Despite White’s wide-reaching and long-lasting reception, he is rarely considered in light of the socio-politics of the 1970s. I read him alongside the rethinking of marginalized identity in academia which was necessitated by the mass liberation movements of the 1960s and foreshadowed the economic crises of the 80s. This thesis contends that White’s criticism of “radical historiography” renaturalizes liberalism as non-ideological and ahistorical. By analyzing White, I aim to show the ideological meaning of comparative historical thinking even as it understands itself to be non-ideological, and I advocate for a non-comparative historicism in analyzing oppression. Extending this analysis, this thesis reveals the dominance of a transhistorical mode of analyzing oppression across schools, including in popular currents in feminism, queer theory, trans theory, and identity politics. These trends which reject objective knowledge and historical truth in favor of subjective historicity join White in renegotiating the familiar territory of liberal universalism into the language of social justice. To develop this analysis, I foreground two contemporary science fiction texts: Jeanette Winterson’s FranKissStein and David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future. I read the politics of queer liberation and bodily modification as they appear in each of these fictions. Ultimately, this thesis is a materialist interpretation of the imaginations of gender-based liberation in contemporary SF, which I see as abiding to a transhistorical mode co-emergent with that which White develops in his Metahistory.

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