Narrating the (Im)Possible: Dystopian Literature and the Promise of a Liberated Future
Abstract: My dissertation challenges the literary classification of dystopias as science fiction by highlighting the historical subjugation of people of color as a dystopic formation within the Americas and the Caribbean. In my dissertation, I argue that for marginalized communities within the Americas, especially Black and Indigenous people, the white settler colonial projects begun by Christopher ... read moreColumbus in 1492 have produced dystopias across the Western hemisphere. Dystopias are generically placed in projected futures as the final outcome of certain logics; they are often seen as imagined spaces of environmental degradation under totalitarian rule. However, rather than placing dystopias strictly within the imaginary spaces of science/speculative fiction, my project analyzes science/speculative fiction through the lens of anti-colonial and post-colonial critiques of white settler nations. I examine four of Octavia Butler's speculative/science fiction novels that portray the dystopian foundations of white utopic visions of perfect worlds primarily by drawing attention to the historical forces that produced the present conditions for Black and Native people in particular. I concentrate on Kindred (1979), Parable of the Sower (1993), Parable of the Talents (1998), and Lilith's Brood (2000), pairing each with another visionary text: Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987), Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003), Dionne Brand's At the Full and Change of the Moon (1999), and Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead (1991). My analyses show that all eight of these works unsettle existing fictions about the invasion of white settlers in the "New World." I reveal how these authors stress that the invaders installed a system of parasitic relations between white settlers and every other living being. Specifically, many of the authors challenge the portrayal of paternalistic relationships between enslaved Africans and white slave-owners and the "humane" treatment of enslaved people. My project emphasizes utopic visions of liberation within dystopian nation formations in the Western hemisphere. Pairing Black speculative fiction by Octavia Butler with post/anti-colonial theory by thinkers such as Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick intervenes in the field of science fiction, specifically Utopia/Dystopia studies, and challenges how the field continues to center on white authors' abstraction of the historical subjugation of Black and other marginalized people into warnings against climate disaster, government surveillance, and state-sanctioned violence against dissenters. My dissertation engages with writers who both discuss the impact of the legacy of genocide, slavery, and colonialism on people of color and offer utopic visions of liberation in their science/speculative fiction narratives. In Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (2006), Katherine McKittrick asserts that "spaces of black liberation were invisibly mapped across the United States and Canada" (18). McKittrick's assertion guides my analysis of speculative fiction that makes visible spaces of liberation to present past and contemporary modes of resistance. I focus extensively on fugitivity and maroonage because they are critical to understanding past and present conceptualizations of freedom.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2018.
Submitted to the Dept. of English.
Advisor: Elizabeth Ammons.
Committee: Christina Sharpe, Modhumita Roy, and Kimberly Brown.
Keyword: English literature.read less