2022 Theses Doctoral
A Howling In the Paperwork: Feminist Practice in the Archives of the Caribbean
“A Howling in the Paperwork” explores the relationship between ethnography, archival practice, and experimentalism in the work of twentieth century women artists whose syncretic ambitions lead them on a geographical itinerary to and through the greater Caribbean. This dissertation proposes a special synergy between artists with “scattered” bodies of work, in perpetual search of the right form for their creative energy, and the space of the Caribbean with its history of genocides, migrations, and displacements. I focus on women artists, in particular, to foreground the relationship between social precarity and aesthetic innovation. The flight from one technique to another has a push as well as a pull, as women artists have been excluded or expelled from institutional homes for their work, including the university.
In the absence of reliable support, the artists I consider come to rely on and refine rigorously subjective methods that prefigure the necessary crisis of objectivity, especially in the social sciences, that would enter mainstream discourse decades later. But even as the artists I consider foreground their own bodies, lives, and communities in their work, they engage diasporic theories of spirit possession, inheritance, and collective creativity that amount to implicit—and sometimes explicit—critiques of the artist as self-contained auteur. Whether or not “there is something strongly feminine” in Caribbean culture, as Antonio Benítez Rojo suggests in The Repeating Island, the idea that there is places women in particularly charged relation to their own creative production in a Caribbean context.
My project pays particular attention to the ways these artists attend to one another, taking up the detritus of those who came before as the raw material for new projects. For example, the Cuban-American émigré Ana Mendieta turns to the amateur anthropology of Lydia Cabrera as inspiration for the stone sculptures she carves in the caves of Jaruco, north of Havana, on a return trip to her home island. This relational consciousness does not establish a linear narrative of descent so much as it imagines a transhistorical collaboration in which I, too, participate.
Alongside traditional methodologies of close-reading and archival research, I engage their work in more personal ways: I’ve traveled to the caves of Jaruco to visit the almost-ruined remains of Mendieta’s sculptures, I’ve translated Marigloria Palma’s poetry into English, and I’ve interviewed Julie Dash for a literary magazine. Much of the meaning of their work resides in its unmistakable invitation to collaborate in its development and dissemination: the second half of this dissertation considers my own inheritance of feminist practice in the context of Puerto Rican culture.
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More About This Work
- Academic Units
- English and Comparative Literature
- Thesis Advisors
- Hartman, Saidiya V.
- Ph.D., Columbia University
- Published Here
- September 21, 2022