The differences place makes: Geographies of subjects, communities, and nations in William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Chang-rae Lee
This dissertation articulates the ways in which space and place permeates grand national narratives as well as everyday events of "American" life, and captures how they are represented in literary texts. I am committed to exploring, through the lens of the cultural geography, the workings of representation in the "production of space" as simultaneously real, symbolic, and imaginary. Embedding my study in critical perspectives provided by New Americanist, postcolonial, and transnational studies, I aim at mediating simultaneously abstract and material lineaments of our social emplacement, and putting in historical contexts the material geography of the United States (and beyond) and its literary representation.
Chapter I traces the main issues in current writing on space and attempts to produce a nuanced account of the instrumentality of space as a register of not only built forms but also of embedded ideologies. Chapter II addresses a more pluralistic notion of "southerness" envisioned in William Faulkner's Light in August by reading him as a different kind of "regionalist" who crosses regional and national boundaries while seemingly staying within his own fictional counties. Chapter III delves into what it means for displaced people to reclaim a secured placed called "home" in Toni Morrison's Paradise, and examines how the geography of exclusion is re-worked through a postethnic vision. Chapter IV scrutinizes how transnational migration and the flow of capital, labor, and cultures give American suburbs new faces and bring about tensions, opening up a national context to transnational frames of reference---"Third Worldization" of American suburbs in David Palumbo-Liu's words.
My dissertation seeks to add to and extend the field of study because its focus on the spatial and representation shifts the axis of analysis, taking literature into new arenas not yet fully cognizant of its spatial critiques. In order to overcome both empty geography that requires only minimal material grounding and thus resists being represented as "place," and pure textuality impervious to cultural content, there should be, I would contend, a continuing special interest in understanding the ways that questions of difference are spatialized in new ways to map "American" sites of place formation.
0323: American studies