My Left Arm, Her Twin Blades: Narratives of Resistance in Black Speculative Fiction
My Left Arm, Her Twin Blades: Narratives of Resistance in Black Speculative Fiction, explores contemporary (1979-2010) Black Speculative novels by four key writers in the genre, including Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, The Shadow Speaker and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, and Tales of Nevèrÿon (the first volume of the four-part Return to Nevèrÿon series) by Samuel R. Delany. Using these five texts, I explore resistance to both everyday and political oppression, as well as to hegemonic racist, sexist, and homophobic ideology as a persistent theme within the field of Black Speculative Fiction. Not only are these five texts (and others in the genre) interested in resistance, they challenge and trouble our understanding of what resistance means. Central to all five is the question of resistance's potential (or lack thereof) for producing meaningful counterhegemonic change. What's more, they simultaneously pose and complicate new models for resistance and identity in the African American and Diasporic African cultural context, particularly queerness and sexuality as models for resistance. My Left Arm, Her Twin Blades explores and analyzes these critiques of and new models for resistance, and argues that these texts point toward a new conceptualization of black identity, which I am calling "Speculative Blackness." Speculative Blackness is a deessentialized vision of blackness (and broader racial identity) which nevertheless insists upon the constant interrogation of race and racial history as both a personal and political imperative. Furthermore, Speculative Blackness integrates queerness into blackness, locating non-heteronormative sexuality (be it same-sex attraction, interracial coupling, nontraditional forms of polygamy, BDSM, or radically equitable heterosexuality) as a key site for black resistance to oppression. Speculative Blackness draws on Foucauldian conceptualizations of of sexuality and identity as culturally constructed categories that relate and respond to power relationships in complicated ways. While scholastic engagement with Black Speculative Fiction is hardly new, most existing criticism that treats the field as a whole has tended to be historical in scope, establishing the genre through unearthing its often neglected history. While this focus has been useful in establishing a Black Speculative canon and dispelling notions of African American Literature and Speculative Fiction as mutually exclusive categories, insufficient critical attention has been paid to mapping out the tropes and cultural constructions that distinguish Black Speculative Fiction from mainstream/white Speculative Fiction, as well as to theorizing how these tropes and contributions play out across the genre. With the intent of addressing these difficulties, my dissertation utilizes an intersectional approach to Black Speculative Fiction's unique formulations of black identity with particular attention to exploring how gender and queerness inform diverse experiences of racialized subjectivity and resistance strategies.
Colson Whitehead, Octavia E. Butler, Postcolonial Literature, Resistance, Samuel R. Delany, Speculative Fiction
March 5, 2014.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of English in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
David Ikard, Professor Directing Dissertation; Maxine Jones, University Representative; Alisha Gaines, Committee Member; Candace Ward, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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