Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Thomas Haddox

Committee Members

Allen Dunn, Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud, Mark Hulsether


“Against Melancholic Pleasure: Care and Affect in Twentieth-Century Southern Literature” examines how white desires for particularity and exceptionalism create structures of feeling that use notions of desert to incite perverse pleasures. These structures of feeling perpetuate the status quo of gender, race, and economic inequality through static anticatharsis. Drawing from theories on affect, critical race, ethics, and politics, this dissertation maps how desires create feeling structures that confuse and constrict agency. Chapter One looks at how American whiteness develops a narrative of desert in three texts: Robert Earl King’s song “Swervin’ in My Lane,” William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” and Walker Percy’s Lancelot. Arguing for melancholia and indignation as inversions of each other, this chapter focuses on how white indignation stems from false notions of what one deserves, particularly the sense that white men should not have to experience vulnerability. Chapter Two studies the modernist aesthetics of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! to argue that his text shows how southern structures of feeling work to fragment empathy. Chapter Three turns to the role of apathy in Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding to examine how the plantation-owning, paternalistic Fairchilds perform delightful quirkiness, which enables systematic apathetic stasis. Chapter Four considers the grotesque aesthetic excess of Denise Giardina’s Appalachian, political novel Storming Heaven as representative of the excessive aesthetics of the American 1980s to analyze how this affective decadence can confuse eudaimonia with exhaustion. This dissertation concludes by theorizing love as a commitment of the will and not a feeling by reading Peter Taylor’s A Summons to Memphis to emphasize that, while some affect theorists argue that negative affects and political problems can be countered through large emotions such as disgust, it is actually not feasible to fight feeling with feeling. Unethical structures of feeling can only be productively challenged through strong commitments.


Portions of the document were previously published in the Eudora Welty Review.

Available for download on Friday, August 15, 2025

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