Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Humphries, Michael


Drawing on a theoretical perspective that relies on the “moments of encounter” that Zizek identifies with respect to how Deleuze and Lacan treat ontological concepts, particularly their seminal and interconnected schematics of horizons, as well as of the tropes of identity construction that they relatedly name, “Bodies without Organs” (Deleuze), and, “Organs without Bodies” (Lacan), I first assemble an interpretive scaffolding around Moby-Dick. I argue that, in Moby-Dick, Melville instantiates horizons that perpetuate, as well as sustain, a rhizomatic epistemology of ontology. The nautical vistas dramatized in Moby-Dick are strikingly anti-directional and iterminus, and therefore, they, I argue, expand the archetypal, Lacanian lacunae reminiscent, openness of identity formation and expression that Borges attributes to the prototypical aquatic quest, The Odyssey. Building upon this theoretical scaffolding, throughout the bulk of my dissertation, I then modify Melville’s nautical perspective in order to constellate a distinctive set of variedly boundary-resistant, and simultaneously, although certainly not-incidentally, aquatically framed and racially charged writings by women from across American history. I contemplate how each of these American female authors respond to the inherent moral mandate of the trope of “true womanhood” to reform slavery’s injustices. Specifically, to bind together interpretively these narratives, I illustrate how they can be convincingly read as foregrounding the body as a kind of constructed text, which is directly territorialized by cultural proscriptions, as these boundaries become normalized in and by the written word.




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