Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

The Language of Rats: Unwelcome Animals and Interspecies Connection in Global Contemporary Fiction consists of three essays examining the representation of what I call unwelcome animals in contemporary Anglophone novels from the United States, Nigeria, and India. These animals often live alongside humans yet are perceived as threats or annoyances. Literary depictions of this fraught relationship reveal, and sometimes critique, the intellectual structures that shape how we understand and represent interspecies connections. This dissertation contributes to our understanding of the interspecies dimensions of contemporary fiction by bringing together the fields of environmental criticism, animal studies, postcolonialism, and U.S. Southern studies. Chapter one concerns interspecies ecologies in Karen Russell’s 2011 novel Swamplandia! I analyze what I call ecoghosts, nonhuman agencies that disrupt the language of the novel while simultaneously appearing as subjects within the narrative. Ecoghosts demonstrate a multivalent form of literary agency, suggesting that the nonhuman presence in fiction cannot be fully exorcised. Chapter two focuses on interspecies politics in Ben Okri’s 1991 novel The Famished Road. I analyze the novel’s representation of rats to reveal hidden dimensions of the novel’s representation of interspecies politics. The text suggests that hard reading, a type of shallow but close reading, is the most ethical approach to reading animals. By depicting the rats as participants in political publics, the novel represents the rats as a bridge between human and nonhuman concerns. In chapter three, I turn to interspecies sociality in Nilanjana Roy’s novels The Wildings (2012) and The Hundred Names of Darkness (2013). By giving language to animal characters’ decidedly nonhuman ways of organizing their worlds, the novels critique homogenizing pressures in Delhi and present stray taxonomies that model modes of categorization premised on the centrality of interspecies relationships.

Date

5-21-2020

Committee Chair

Rastogi, Pallavi

Available for download on Monday, May 15, 2023

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