Trauma's palimpsests: The narrative cycles of Louise Erdrich and Richard Rodriguez
This dissertation imagines certain contemporary literary oeuvres as perpetually shifting multi-layered palimpsests, their thematic and formal interconnections enacting both the repetitions of trauma and the necessary revisions of historiography, identity, and recovery. Across ethnicity, gender, and genre, my intratextual analyses reveal a cyclical dynamic that destabilizes plotting and the presumption of linear progress between past and future.
Chapter One advocates for undisciplined humanities scholarship, drawing upon Jeffrey Williams's "posttheory generation," Shu-mei Shih's "technologies of recognition," and Theodor Adorno's "The Essay as Form."
Chapter 2 considers form and reception via theories of intertextuality, intratextuality, and short story cycles. Linking politics and poetics, I suggest that these oeuvres invite consideration of gender, sexuality, and narrative, as well as the "spacetime" of genre.
Chapter 3 explores the "serial unpredictability" of "trauma's palimpsests" as analogous to the disordered temporality of geomorphological relicts after impact to the earth. After discussing how these oeuvres mediate between realist and postmodern theories of language, I distinguish between personal and cultural as well as "event-based" and discursive theories of trauma. I emphasize the social nature of recovery, viewing intratextual reading as analogous to a witnessing relationship.
Chapter 4 reads Louise Erdrich's "long story cycle," focusing on Tracks (1988) and Four Souls (2004), as emblematic of both traditional Native American forms of storytelling and postmodern witnessing. Drawing upon theories of tricksters, the roman-fleuve, and hypertext, I show that Erdrich's "story" is not a plot, but a performance of storytelling, historiography, and community formation.
Chapter 5 argues that Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory (1982) is an essay cycle "impersonating an autobiography." Showing that the text's repetitions point to the discursive trauma of gay sexuality inextricable from ethnic loss, I illustrate how Rodriguez's narrative resists the plot of the coming out story.
Chapter 6 posits Rodriguez's Brown (2002) as a "return story" that reprises his "long essay cycle." A close reading of the cubist self-portrait in "Peter's Avocado" reveals a metaphor for Rodriguez's multi-faceted identity and the structure of his writing.
The dissertation concludes with "A Palinode on the Scholarly Real," where I reflect upon the structural relationship between autobiography and scholarship.
0323: American studies