How Whiteness Claimed the Future. The Always New Vs. the Always Now in US-American Literature

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Embargoed until 2021-11-02
Copyright: Nikolova, Mariya
I examine whether and how avant-garde tropes promote the potential of permanent renewal as white America’s (re)birth and transformation. Renewal, in its broadest sense, ties to the capacities to create, progress, transcend, and simply be. From Black critique we know that, within dominant discourse, all these capacities have been stifled and denied to Black bodies ever since colonization. On the one hand, Black creative work and origin/ality have been fetishized, appropriated, stolen, and dismissed in and by dominant culture. On the other hand, Black being has been construed as negativity and barred on the level of ontology (Fanon, Wilderson, Warren). It follows then that racialization operates on multiple levels in the conceptual frame of renewal. I study this conceptualization in the works of and literary criticism on Kathy Acker, Don DeLillo, and Marilynne Robinson. More specifically, I investigate how images of renewal enable the claim on futurity, transformative potential, and movement forward as exclusively white properties. Constructed through oppositions between white subjectivity and Black incapacitation, these images often ‘bury’ the latter by highlighting the former. With this project, I show that, deriving from white ideology, such representations are symbiotic and simultaneous. The “good” story of white renewal is inextricably linked to narrative transgressions towards Black being. I study these transgressions and the ways white literature alibies them out, and instead pushes forward an image of white morality and heroism. In this regard, my project focuses not only on racist production as illustrated by the texts in question but also on the ways whiteness regulates writing and reading practices. I consider how tenets of whiteness – like the programmatic quest towards renewal – function on narrative and discursive level. For instance, I show that an avantgardism embedded in whiteness positions white texts as ground-breaking and transformative despite a lack of formal or conceptual innovation. Similarly, techniques such as textual deferral, omissions, and incorporation bar or defuse the critique which exposes the racist premises and anti-Black workings of white fiction. The project thus examines what kind of images/imagination this literature has promoted with the effect of strengthening the racialized division of American culture.
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Nikolova, Mariya
Brewster, Anne
Pryor, Sean
Nanquette, Laetitia
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PhD Doctorate
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