Date of Award

1995

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

James Olney

Abstract

Beginning with a definition of "race" as a system of discourse about human difference sustained by its symbolic articulations, I approach "race" as analogous to the social disciplines that Foucault describes as constructing the modern subject. Bringing together certain speculations of Lacan, Fanon, and Morrison, I suggest that this racial discipline facilitates a racial "mirror stage" through which "blackness" and "whiteness" are projected as distinct and unified conceptions of identity. My readings of representative texts examine how such racial identity patterns are both seductive as resolutions of self-discord and destructive in tension with the multiple, interpersonal, and historical determinations of the self. The anxieties of psychic and bodily disintegration represented in these texts simultaneously inscribe this tension and, because they are evoked in overtly racialized contexts, suggest the uses and effects of "race" in U.S. culture. These implications of "race" are quite different for whites and blacks, but it is precisely the study of texts by white and black writers together, as a literature of social racialization, rather than as literatures by "whites" and "blacks," that reveals the discursivity of "race" and its role in the construction and destruction of the self. Thus, chapter 2 reads Stein's representation of "black," fragmented subjectivity in Melanctha as racialized re-presentation of the social disciplines that circumscribed Stein's own identity and precipitated her anxieties of disintegration, while also noting how Stein's compositional approach dramatically illustrates "race" as a discursive system. Chapter 3 shows how Ellison's Invisible Man evokes the "white" mirror stage, its production of disciplinary models of "black" identity, and the disintegration of the "black" self-experience that results. Chapter 4 compares the blackface device employed in Berryman's Dream Songs to the function of historical minstrelsy, suggesting how Berryman simultaneously acknowledges the internal "blackness" that structures normative "white" identity, yet manipulates a carnivalized "blackness" to allay the moral and organizational anxieties of "whiteness." Chapter 5 suggests additional historical and theoretical directions for this racially politicized psychoanalytic criticism, applying Kohutian self psychology to the felt disintegration of the African-American self that, in Morrison's Beloved, is the legacy of slavery's intrapsychic and intrafamilial disruptions.

Pages

427

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