Date of Degree
Robert F. Reid-Pharr
African American Studies | American Literature | American Popular Culture | American Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | United States History
African American, LGBTQ, Queer, Twentieth Century U.S. Literature, Black Pulp Fiction, Race and Gender
Brother Outsider: Queered Belonging and Kinships in African American Men’s Literature, 1953-1971 builds on the work of women-of-color feminists since the late 1960s and queer-of-color critique in the works of José Esteban Muñoz, Robert Reid-Pharr, Roderic Ferguson, and Nadia Ellis, in order to chronicle the emergence of a queer tradition in mid twentieth century African American men’s literature. Through literary analysis and archival research on marginal figures of African American culture during this period, this dissertation proposes that the black pulp novels of Chester Himes, Robert Deane Pharr, Clarence Cooper Jr., and Iceberg Slim perform a queer critique of and offer modes of resistance to the Cold War era ideology of racial liberalism and racial capitalism: the two key formulations designed to ensure the victory of American democracy nationally and globally. By challenging racial liberalism’s paradoxical reproduction of the old logic of racial segregation in tandem with the new logic of democratic equality codified through liberal antiracisms, these writers spotlight the creation of racialized geographies within the white bourgeois nation space. Brother Outsider attempts to underscore the spatial practices through which black female bodies and black queer bodies reclaim racialized geographies and make them black by establishing an alternative mode of emplacement – through the routes of desire and a wild or illicit capacity to imagine that which is not here yet. These writers thus formulate the possibility of elsewheres that are coded through non-hierarchical discourses rather than paternalistic discourses of ownership. From their experiences of living life as addicts, single room occupancy residents, inner-city dwellers, convicts, polyamorous black queer men, and migrants across the urban landscape, these writers author alternative models of solidarities across different modalities of oppression in their works. Brother Outsider is therefore an intervention into black studies and black diasporic studies, and broadens our understanding of movement within the nation space rather than beyond. From the perspective of displaced bodies, Brother Outsider describes how the capitalist project of the Cold War was accomplished through de facto segregation and the lumpenproletarization of racialized bodies in spaces marked by confinement, regulation, and surveillance. However, Brother Outsider also highlights queer worldmaking activities such as the ritual of writing, the capacity to love and empathize, and the more mundane rituals of sex, addiction, and gossip, through which the displaced and dispossessed racialized subjects formulate alternate modes of belonging and kinships.
In each of the chapters in this dissertation, I focus on the representations of in-migrations of marginalized people whose journeys seem to take them nowhere; they are forever in transit, in motion, and dispossession punctuate their journeys. By demonstrating the terrible realities of such movements, only made bearable through flights of fancy, I attempt to highlight the existence of an alternative aesthetics that loosely binds these African American writers into a black queer tradition that had coexisted alongside the nationalistic black aesthetics that was more certain about its political goals and dreams.
Biswas, Debarati, "Brother Outsider: Queered Belonging and Kinships in African American Men’s Literature, 1953-1971" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.