Theses Doctoral

The Poetics of Endurance: Managing Natural Variation in the Atlantic World

Dzyak, Katrina

This dissertation argues that Anglophone writers across the nineteenth-century Atlantic World can be seen trying to represent specific natural worlds as intentionally produced by the cultural practices of Indigenous or African Diasporic people. The case studies that support this argument include the work of Anne Wollstonecraft, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Gilbert Wilson, and they respectively travel from the plantation worlds of Matanzas, Cuba amidst the island’s “sugar revolution,” New England river wetlands but especially the unrelenting persistence of swamps, desert island archipelagos in the Pacific just before the Guano Wars, and the upper Missouri River basin beds increasingly enclosed by United States military installations.

Reading each writer’s representation of these natural and social worlds through the framework of ‘land management,’ this thesis proposes a way of registering and tracing their shared attempt to discern practices that all center around the reproduction of ‘natural variation.’ It contends that these nineteenth-century attempts to observe, speculate, or imagine instances of natural variation, each as a product of Indigenous or African Diasporic land management practices be read as a form of poetics, which this dissertation defines as the rhetorical appropriation and reconfiguration of previous modes of discourse (as opposed to an idea of raw innovation). Here, Wollstonecraft, Hawthorne, Melville, and Wilson each renegotiate the colonial justification narrative, official orders of natural history, the perspective of the travel log, and early ethnographic anthropology, in order to represent myriad relationships between natural resilience and subaltern ‘survivance,’ the convergence of which this dissertation ultimately names ‘endurance.’ Finally, we might think of each renegotiation as itself a form of ‘management’ by which these writers respectively highlight their understanding of literature’s role in empire, but do so, in the hopes of rerouting this relay so that representations of nature come to include the role of cultural practices of land management. This archive of ‘endurance’ might be read, then, as the result of disparate authors who all nevertheless believe that literary work might actually help restore and sustain cultural and environmental realities.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Arsic, Branka
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2024