Locating the Destitute: Place in Postcolonial Fiction (V.S. Naipaul, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Octavia Butler)
My dissertation explores the relationship between location and identity in V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas, Patrick Chamoiseau's Texaco and Octavia Butler's Kindred. Using space as a narrative device and an analytical category, I question the tendency of mainstream postcolonial criticism to exchange the forceful binarism of the anti-colonial struggle for a largely discursive "interstitial" analysis. I focus, instead, on the conceptual possibilities opened for postcolonial theory by the postmodern "spatial turn" and address the symbolic meaning of real spaces through the work of political geographers Edward Soja and David Harvey and their predecessor, a Marxist philosopher, Henri Lefebvre. The etymological sense of the word "destitution" (to be placed outside) organizes my reading of postcolonial "spatial identities" and serves to question what it means to be made paradoxically exterior within a dominant power structure and alien to oneself. My select authors construct narrative "houses" to reclaim not only actual or imaginary places, but also the very conditions of self-representation. Since the spatial identities thus created weld together the "where" and the "who," I examine the implications of narrative representation itself: what does it mean to resolve the material through the imaginary or, conversely, to treat fiction as material? I argue for the centrality of literary imagination as the "third" term, which contests the binary structures of political placement (e.g. colonizer/colonized, master/slave, rich! poor, etc.). In the encounter between narrative place and the realities of socio-political placement, my notion of spatiality refers as much to the concrete narrative location as to the more political placement of the human subject, or ultimately, what I call "the subject as location." I conclude that the work of postcolonial literature has to be read, on the one hand, as reflecting the material conditions of spatially experienced inequalities inherited from the colonial world and, on the other hand, as rising above these material conditions to offer genuine resistance to material reality. Although the content of postcolonial fiction remains inherently spatio-political, its contestations of the political must be seen as claiming -- through the narrative -- freedom from the dictates of the inherited world order.
dissertation or thesis