Date of Degree

6-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Kandice Chuh

Committee Members

Robert Reid-Pharr

Peter Hitchcock

Crystal Parikh

Subject Categories

American Studies | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other English Language and Literature | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies

Keywords

the body, neoliberalism, multiculturalism, global literature, the university, aesthetics

Abstract

This dissertation examines a transnational literary archive in addition to analyzing shifting U.S. American cultural and political landscapes, and shows how critically attending to the various terms, figures, and valences of corporeality opens generative avenues for addressing the contemporary historical conjuncture, often referred to as the neoliberal capitalist era. Neoliberal capitalism, understood here to be a complex, diffuse ideology that manifests in part as a number of broadsweeping economic changes—including widespread deregulation and privatization, the increasing influence of international financial organizations, governmental cuts in social spending, and structural adjustment programs for the formerly colonized nations of the global south—operates in part through processes of abstraction. We can see this abstractive quality pronouncedly in the evacuation of meaning from terms like “equality” and “diversity” in the multicultural politics that correlate with neoliberal capitalism. This project takes as its point of departure the observation that rampant material inequalities that may be indexed along the axes of race and gender are sustained alongside (or perhaps through) dominant rhetorics of equality, freedom (of the market), “colorblindness,” meritocracy, and a “post-racial” society.

As its title suggests, this dissertation traces the bodies (and at times the body parts) of individuals and characters, the bodies (or canons) of literature, the institutional bodies, and the bodies politic that populate and contextualize a group of contemporary texts marked and marketed as “global.” By doing so, I argue that a return to the figure of the body affords critical address of abstraction by focusing attention concertedly on materiality, and that embodiment may be mobilized as a critical analysis that re-centers not only the lived experience of women and people of color in the neoliberal era, but also illuminates the material dimensions implicit in a range of debates, from judicial politics over affirmative action to institutionalized disciplinary disputes over the territory of “world literature.” Analyzing works by Karen Tei Yamashita, Arundhati Roy, and Zadie Smith, I create an archive of the neoliberal present that indexes a matrix of material conditions and reflects on the very rubrics of transnationality and the global that circumscribe such texts.

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