Date of Award

8-10-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Mark Noble

Second Advisor

Gina Caison

Third Advisor

Jay Rajiva

Abstract

This dissertation addresses American literature set mostly in the antebellum period. I begin by describing the editorial work of Elias Boudinot and Elijah Hicks concerning the Cherokee Phoenix, then the dissertation moves through the latter years of the American Renaissance with a chapter on Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. The final chapter examines Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, a work of speculative fiction that follows an interracial couple being torn through time between 1970s Southern California and the antebellum U.S. South. This project engages with studies in Black literature, Indigenous literature, literature from communities of color, and the American Renaissance. It engages broadly with nineteenth-century American literature. For theoretical grounding, I borrow and adapt philosophies from Homi Bhabha and Kevin Bruyneel—theorists in postcolonial studies and political theory, respectively—and trauma theorists Cathy Caruth and Dominick LaCapra. The central argument of this dissertation illustrates features of what I call “temporal ambivalence.”

I argue that writers who confront uncertain futures are often ambivalent about whether to anticipate the unlikely or, in contrast, acknowledge cultural, political, and/or personal apocalypses. In attempts to reconcile lived experiences with possible futures, these authors display an uneasiness with a future while also fashioning literary experiments designed to traverse questionable temporal gaps. The authors I discuss grapple with their own adherence to common cultural sensibilities. This dissertation illuminates how authors struggle with the presence of unknown and pending futures, uncomfortable or multivalent perspectives of each subject’s experience with time and an ambivalence about definite temporal moments. Because such writing foregrounds an obsession with speculative futures that may never come to pass, Boudinot, Hicks, Melville, and Butler direct their writing towards proposed futures that cannot be continuous with the present. Temporal ambivalence, a way of understanding time from multiple perspectives, marks individuals and communities plagued by trauma. For the writers discussed in this project, to be ambivalent is also to be ambi valent—to develop the ability to view experience through multiple lenses and respond to the demands of uncertain times.

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