I will be presenting my research on masculinity in George Saunders’ fiction this May at the 34th American Literature Association 2023 conference in Boston, U.S.A.
I’m sure this trip will prove to be a key step in the early stages of my Saunders’ project.
I will be presenting my paper “‘This is how I feel’: Shame and Masculinity in George Saunders’ fiction”. This paper will be based upon the research that I am doing at the moment, so it will most likely offer a brief critical overview of the current state of scholarly research on shame and masculinity, research that I conducted recently at the British Library in London; before moving on to some textual probing of Saunders’ texts to argue for the central role of shame in Saunders’ narratives of masculinity. I may well focus mostly on Saunders’ early fiction; but we will see how it pans out. I am working on this alongside another article on guilt, ghosts, and masculinity that I have written about here. So maybe, looking into the future, if I do focus on early Saunders’ fiction, these two articles could come together to be a first chapter of the Saunders masculinity monograph… We’ll see.
But shame itself is a highly charged topic – both in terms of its contemporary relevance but also in terms of its inherently gendered nature. Shame has been gendered as feminine by society, history, and literature.
There are many engaging books on shame out there. A good way in might be Peter N. Stearns Shame: A Brief History (2017). But if you really want to dig into shame, then it’s probably best to start with Helen Block Lewis’ Shame and Guilt in Neurosis (1971), working your way through Michael Lewis, Elspeth Probyn, Sara Ahmed (as well as Sartre, Agamben, and other philosophers philosophising), and then coming to Kaye Mitchell’s more recent Writing Shame: Gender, Contemporary Literature and Negative Affect (2020).
I’m pretty confident that shame (and guilt) will prove to be major pillars of Saunders’ writings on masculinity. It makes sense, right? Especially with Saunders’ empathetic narratives of those men who try their best while the workings of society force them to face the realities of their actions, their decisions, and their fate.
I am very proud to be presenting as part of the George Saunders’ society and the two panels have been set up seemingly effortlessly by Brian Jansen. I am looking forward to meeting the other Saunders presenters and maybe looking to future collaborations.
I’ll report back in upcoming posts on the progress of the paper and the Saunders’ project more broadly. Writing is all about momentum, so let’s keep it moving. We’ll worry about the direction it’s moving in later!