The Ancestral Nexus: Indigenous and Black Literatures of Survival
Abstract: My dissertation, entitled The Ancestral Nexus: Indigenous and Black Literatures of Survival, proposes a conception of global Indigenous and Black literatures as a set of practices that create and maintain a meeting place for the exchange of ancestral stories, technologies of sovereignty and self-determination, and strategies for survival. My formation of this meeting place, the ancestral... read morenexus, builds upon Leslie Marmon Silko's depiction, in Almanac of the Dead, of ancestors as stories of escape: the novel portrays the proliferation of "revolutionist" stories of survival against the genocide of colonization and Indigenous removal, and insists that such stories create the conditions of possibility for the survival of Indigenous peoples "even if they had never heard such an escape story." My dissertation investigates literary and historical spaces where the exchange of such stories—and through such an exchange, the exchange of ancestries—creates opportunities for social formations outside of national, colonial, and capitalistic bounds. Working with Sylvia Wynter's theorization of the human being as praxis, I argue for a hermeneutic mode that analytically rewrites genocidal conceptions of the human; the assemblage of ancestral stories that I investigate perform this rewriting. My first chapter, "'Constituents of a Chaos': C.L.R. James, Melville, and the Ancestral Nexus," pursues this method of analysis through the figure of C.L.R. James and his reading of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. I argue that James, in uncovering the stories of the Pequod's crew, performs a search for ancestors in survival across the boundaries of global Indigenous and Black lifeworlds. This performance culminates, in my reading, in a hermeneutic method that allows James, perhaps unwittingly, to engage in the exchange of ancestral stories towards his own and future readers' survivals. My second chapter, "Lāhui, from Maui to Nanatukete and Back Again," investigates one strand of the ancestors behind Melville's crew: the lives and stories of Kānaka Maoli sailors amidst the whale fishery and maritime world of the nineteenth century. Recovering these stories from the archive, this chapter then reads contemporary Kānaka Maoli literature and activism as drawing upon the ancestral survival skills of these kūpuna kane ('grandfathers'), connecting their praxes of being human with the stories found by James. Specifically, this chapter reads the archival lives of the kūpuna kane in relation to ku'ualoha meyer ho'omanawanui's short story "Ho'okupu," and proposes a framing of Kānaka Maoli literature based upon the short story's ancestral exchanges as an always-already mobile literary whose dynamism offers possibilities for decolonization. My third and final chapter, "Silko, Bambara, and Ancestral Stories of Escape," finalizes my project by returning to Silko's proposal of ancestors as stories of escape and sounding the distance—culturally and materially—that such stories can travel. I read Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters and Silko's Almanac of the Dead as literary enactments of the ancestral nexus in their combination of trans-ancestral activism, Black-Native community building, and multiple corporealities, and I argue that the common ground built through the two novels frame an understanding of literature necessarily outside of settler-state logic. I propose, to conclude my project, a definition of literature based upon the exchanges that occur during these fleeting connections: between James and Melville's crew; between kūpuna kane and Wampanoag whalers; between Black self-determination activists and Bambara's Nilda from the Black Hills; and between Quetzalcoatl, Damballah, and Ma ah shra true ee, ancestral figures whose activation by authors and characters seeking survival enacts a version of literature at the intersection of dysselected lifeworlds. As an assemblage of ancestral stories itself, my dissertation project attempts to perform a liberatory possibility: by gathering together stories of escape and survival, whether on the literary page, genealogical record, or lost to history, it is my intent to privilege voices considered outside of both modernity and literature and, in doing so, to offer a literary practice grounded in global Black and Indigenous praxes of survival. My dissertation project does not seek to uncover or make legible these stories. Rather, I examine the conditions of possibility under which these stories might and can be told.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2018.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Lisa Lowe.
Committee: Modhumita Roy, Nathan Wolff, and Adam Lewis.
Keywords: English literature, American literature, and Native American studies.read less