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"The Surly Bonds of Earth": Discourses of Transcendence and American Flight Autobiography
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This project considers problems of self-representation within traditions that share attention to transcendence: aerial discourses and autobiography. A mobile technology that allowed for sustained movement upward, the airplane promised the ability to rise above physical limitations and the confines of the material earth. Similarly, the ideal subject of autobiography "proper" has traditionally been one that secured a kind of timelessness and universality by rising above others. This dissertation shows how metaphorical geographies are linked to subjectivity, agency and experience as it considers the problematic biases of transcendent discourse. Textual analyses in the dissertation include work by iconic American pilots such as Charles A. Lindbergh and Richard E. Byrd, but they also include texts by minority writers who struggled with aerial and autobiographical discourses. Autobiographies by William J. Powell and Jimmy Collins illustrate problems of ethnicity and class, while work by Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden and Jackie Cochran illustrate problems of gender. These texts, along with others published in the Unites States by writers such as Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Beryl Markham, show how transcendence--preoccupied as it is with rising above corporeality and materiality--is a gesture that is not only masculine, but one that is fully compatible with imperial discourses as well.