Aesthetic Impropriety: Properties Of Law And Politics In Postcolonial Literature

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"Aesthetic Impropriety: Properties of Law and Politics in Postcolonial Literature" addresses the problem of property lying at the heart of many postcolonial novels. The complicated status of property as a construct, legal precept, and philosophy of self-ownership has not been fully considered in a postcolonial context, particularly as it has informed the genre of the novel. My research draws upon theorizations of property in political philosophy and American legal studies to examine how property has shaped anti-colonial literary form. Chapter One builds on a long tradition of critiquing institutions of law, government, and the nation-state for being exclusionary, egoistic, and overly invested in the construct of property. Using the paradigm of "aesthetic impropriety," I argue that postcolonial novels frequently configure non-proprietary forms of ethical relation. Chapter Two turns to Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. Using research into Indian inheritance and matrimonial law, I show how Roy's novel confronts Indian property law's gendered exclusions, countering the systematic dispossession of Indian women by establishing, through its non-proprietary, "improper" aesthetics, a relational mode of political life. Chapter Three illuminates J. M. Coetzee's late-apartheid novel, Life & Times of Michael K through contextual readings of apartheid's racially exclusionary land and labor laws. I reveal this novel's concern with the question of inheritance, arguing that it rejects the hereditary power of the ruling white minority by describing its black protagonist as part of an elective, democratic community. Chapter Four considers the relationship between aesthetic style and political form in Ben Okri's 1991 novel, The Famished Road. Whereas critics typically describe Okri's novel as magical realist, I associate this novel's extravagant, excessive, and exuberant aesthetics as consonant with democracy's mode of functioning, affirming the Nigerian population's capacity to democratically achieve a fairer nation. Finally, my conclusion contributes to contemporary debates about modes of literary interpretation by exploring a possible method of improper reading. Overall, my dissertation is interdisciplinary in its insights: it offers a new paradigm for postcolonial literary studies and it demonstrates, through sustained formal analysis, the necessary contributions of literary studies to analyzing privative economic, legal, and political systems and theorizing alternatives.
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Postcolonial literature; Global Anglophone literature; Property, Law, Politics, Novel
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Anker,Elizabeth Susan
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McNulty,Tracy K.
Melas,Natalie Anne-Marie
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English Language and Literature
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Ph. D., English Language and Literature
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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