This dissertation, which combines archival research and theory, literary criticism, visual culture studies, and feminist, queer, transgender, and disability theories, develops an approach to the literary counter-archive. It examines the aesthetic strategies found in three early 20th century U.S. investigative archives which were concerned with deviant gender and sexual identity, national identity and racialization, authenticity and fraud, specifically as they related to ideas of essentialized embodiment and subjectivity. Each of these investigative archives came with an uncanny double: a counter-archive produced through the fissures in archival hegemony and directed towards exposing what was at stake in that archival consolidation. These counter-archives were not simply recovered artifacts of the Foucauldian resistance produced simultaneously with hegemonic power. Rather, these counter-archives were performative, deploying literary and aesthetic strategies, to produce often transgressive potentialities of subjectivity.
A counter-archive, however, just like the discursive or regulatory archive to which it is joined, fails to fully cohere. For its approach, then, a counter-archival poetics is required, one that re-imagines the epistemology of the archive from the coherent, collection, classification and containment of regulation, to an epistemology of interpretation and polyvalence, of multiple trajectories of inquiry extending from a single site of rupture. To respond to such literary, aesthetic and archival openings, a methodology of counter-archival poetics provides an attention to the ways in which meaning is produced within specific relationships of content and form and which allows me to consider the counter-archival narratives in relation to early 20th century discourses on authenticity, alterity and subjectivity.
From mendicancy investigator James Forbes' frenzied surveillance of "professional prostitute, blackmailer, and pervert" Elizabeth Nielsen, to the James Cook photographic inscription under the staged photo of cross-gendered subject Geraldine Portica, to the multiple layers of authenticity and confidence of the "good deeds" associated with the International Sunshine Society, I examine how modes of gendered living were leveraged, deployed, enacted or performed in circuits of criminality and its detection. I explore how criminal embodiments might appropriate regulation and consider what strategic potentialities exist for ontological alterity.