Purdue University Graduate School

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Parasitic Modernism: Bioethics, Dependency, and Literature

posted on 2022-04-14, 20:20 authored by Sebastian Alexander WilliamsSebastian Alexander Williams
This dissertation argues that the unstable category of the parasite was used to debate the limits of humanism during the modernist period (approximately 1890 to 1945). I show how the most marginalized individuals and organisms are deemed “parasitic” and positioned at the core of social issues, such as tropical disease, poverty, and racism. Authors from Virginia Woolf and Nella Larsen to John Steinbeck and George Orwell reveal how parasitism occupies a liminal space between categories of sickness/health, human/animal, and production/exploitation. This project contributes to developing debates in modernist studies about the relationship between nature and culture, and it builds on animal studies, disability studies, and the history of medicine to demonstrate that aesthetics shapes our evaluation of various forms of life.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Maren Linett

Additional Committee Member 2

John Duvall

Additional Committee Member 3

Arkady Plotnitsky

Additional Committee Member 4

Jeanne Dubino