Date of Degree
Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Aesthetics | African American Studies | American Literature | American Politics | American Studies | Caribbean Languages and Societies | Continental Philosophy | Cultural History | History of Philosophy | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other American Studies | Other Music | Reading and Language
Abolition, Black Radical Tradition, Internationalism, Literary Methods, Metonymy
How has an abolitionist literary method been practiced and how does it continue? How does an abolitionist reading practice emerge? Following geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore, abolition must be international, and “is presence, not absence…abolition is life in rehearsal." Asking after the centrality of the United States in contemporary discussions of prison abolition, this dissertation therefore reads with those who collaboratively move American Studies through literature before, beyond, and after the United States in presence and rehearsal. In so doing, the following considers intellectual and aesthetic practices found across works by C. L. R. James, Amiri Baraka, Assata Shakur, two Black persons in 17th century Lima, Peru going under the names of Antonio and Ana Maria, Briton Hammon, Hortense Spillers, Cecil Taylor, and Mary Lou Williams. This multilingual archive (English, Spanish, German, French) is activated to extend what Cedric Robinson has referred to as “the Black Radical Tradition” and Fred Moten’s emphasis on the aesthetics of that tradition.
How might the relationship between the Black Radical Tradition and abolition be understood? If abolition is currently experiencing a renaissance, where would we approach its previous iterations, even and especially in those moments where abolition looks superficially scarce or scant? With tools from literary criticism, theory, geography, and history, this study sketches how practitioners aligned with the history and shaping of Black Studies rehearsed an international, interdisciplinary, and collective approach, from Lima, Peru to Havana, Cuba to New York City. Multiple genres are underscored (theory, poetry, life writing, and music), often throughout the same texts.
With respect to specific boundaries, the chapters incorporate analysis primarily considering the 20th century, with a dual chapter intermezzo focusing on the 17th and 18th centuries, jumping scales and relying on a new theorization of “Black revolutionary metonymy” to make those connections explicit. As a rhetorical trope, metonymy operates by means of figurative language, though it does so differently than other linguistic designations such as metaphor, synecdoche, homonymy, and meronymy (despite similarity of spelling in the latter’s suffix!).
Metonymy, as a contingent and materially-based rhetorical trope, demonstrates a network between materially related sites, persons, and objects (as in “flesh” or “the Prison Industrial Complex”) more central to the rhetoric of prison abolition. These multiple times and places evince a hemispheric relationality essential to a critical remapping – or countertopography – for abolition. This countertopography is both interdisciplinary and related specifically to the study of literature.
Understanding Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s injunction to “change everything” (2022) requires a revivification of these continued and changing discourses. This “recapitulation” involves becoming, here appearing under the name the rhetoric of abolition.
Rufo, John S., "Abolition Renaissance: Black Revolutionary Metonymy in 20th Century Theory, Poetry, Life Writing, and Music Beyond ‘the United States’" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.
This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Monday, June 02, 2025
Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.
Aesthetics Commons, African American Studies Commons, American Literature Commons, American Politics Commons, Caribbean Languages and Societies Commons, Continental Philosophy Commons, Cultural History Commons, History of Philosophy Commons, Interdisciplinary Arts and Media Commons, Literature in English, North America Commons, Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority Commons, Other American Studies Commons, Other Music Commons, Reading and Language Commons