Date of Award

5-6-2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Elizabeth West (GSU)

Second Advisor

Alfred Hornung (JGU)

Third Advisor

Erin Suzuki (UCSD)

Abstract

This dissertation uncovers how select multiethnic American literatures imagine minoritarian subjectivity that is not premised on categories of nationalism or American mythos of agency, but rather privilege non-Western humanist subject-formation processes. Given their outlying position in the American literary canon, multiethnic, interracial texts have the capacity to engage not only alternative frameworks of subject formation, but also specifically humanist frames – meaning, encounters of inclusion that occur because of a reciprocal recognition of a shared condition of being. Investigating narratives of interethnic reception, this project illuminates how some modes of being, such as suffering and joy, illustrate a new humanism predicated on radical empathy. Employing an archive of narrative works that range from Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father (1995) to Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth (2010), alongside texts such as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rainforest (1990), this dissertation shows how minority subjectivities can be cultivated beyond the domain of settler agendas: how, for example, ethnic difference incites cross-cultural dignity, not racial subjugation; or how militaristic violence heralds guardianship amongst its victims, not reactive hatred. Ultimately, this narrative methodology works to undermine mechanisms of agency that create subjects only to control, condition, and constrain them.

Exploring how multiethnic literature expresses underexamined humanist encounters between minoritized peoples, this dissertation demonstrates the potential to destabilize the exclusionist nationalism that first marginalized them, without engaging or relying on said national codes of subjectivity. To that end, this project concludes by exploring how a methodology of empathetic humanism can be put into praxis. Providing examples of partnerships with local disenfranchised groups to co-create public-facing projects that expand the frame of “who counts” as a viable subject, this dissertation closes by demonstrating how empathetic humanism as a theory and methodology can be employed to benefit the public, common good.

Available for download on Friday, April 16, 2021

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