Date of Award

5-1-2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Donica, Joseph

Abstract

This dissertation examines the cleared spaces after disaster and the way the rhetoric of utopian projects is taken up by corporate and privatizing ventures to mask projects that seek to shut down participation in the public sphere. Chapter one argues that there are mechanisms within societies that can push against these forces by promoting a cosmopolitan sensibility that protects the commons and respects the alterity of the Other. Such mechanisms have theoretical roots in the thinking of Robert Nozick and Fredric Jameson but have been rethought more recently by Bruce Robbins, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Seyla Benhabib. I read literature alongside documentaries and memorials to discover the way cultural texts model these methods of pushing back against neoliberal projects in the wake of 9/11 and Katrina by bringing ethics, as Emmanuel Levinas does, into "real world" situations. Projects that co-opt the commons after disaster convey a imitative cosmopolitanism that can be counteracted through giving agency to those who do not have it, constructing communities of access for the future, supporting a form of public mourning that promotes critique, and protecting post-disaster spaces from becoming only tourist destinations. Chapter two looks to the way the 9/11 fiction of Moshin Hamid, Claire Messud, Alissa Torres, Paul Auster, and Jonathan Safran Foer models a cosmopolitanism that repairs the self's relationship to the Other by allowing the Other an agency previously unavailable before 9/11. Chapter three examines how When the Levees Broke, Trouble the Water, Kamp Katrina, Katrina Ballads, A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge, and Zeitoun foreground the vulnerability of Gulf Coast residents by linking their vulnerability to the nation's now damaged ecological relationship to the coast. Chapter four explores the cultural memory at a range of 9/11 and Katrina memorials in New York, Washington D. C., and along the Gulf Coast in order to find memorials that reinvigorate the commons by melding public mourning with critique. The epilogue examines the larger implications of my dissertation for the field of American studies in examining the culture of disaster that has arisen in the past decade.

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