Date of Award

8-1-2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Brunner, Edward

Second Advisor

Fox, Robert

Abstract

Three contemporary authors – Suzan-Lori Parks, Natasha Trethewey, and Colson Whitehead – within the African American Literary Tradition explore relationships to history in light of a dominant rhetoric that represents African American history through a white, hegemonic lens. In Parks’ The America Play, Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia, and Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, these authors comment on historical representation through such symbols as iconic figures like Abraham Lincoln, photographs, and elevators as starting points to explore the possibility of an independent space for African American history. Rather than remarking on just the representation of the artifact, however, the authors enter a conversation on how history is remembered and experienced. Parks, Trethewey, and Whitehead each form their own expression on historical representation; in each case, their works address the ability, or inability, to achieve historical intimacy amidst a push back from hegemonic narratives in the public eye. Historical intimacy, as the leading concept of the dissertation, refers to developing a close proximity to history not as a mere representation but as lived experience. Parks sees historical insight developing only through brief moments of intimate contact, if at all. Trethewey imagines personal, even sensual, familiarity with the subjects of her poems as a way of breaking through social frames and learning to connect with the past. Whitehead works through paradoxes to dissolve representational patterns of discourse, like verticality, and reach for a post-rational space wherein both open historical possibility, which stresses self-reflexivity, and a foundation in a “real,” experienced history unlock the opportunity for the construction of an intimate history. Although no author presents historical intimacy as an achieved goal, their works suggest varying degrees of potential and connection.

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