Theses Doctoral

Reading and Repair: Fictions of "Mau Mau"

Ross, Elliot

This dissertation argues that works of literature offer a valuable critical supplement to historical and legal accounts of colonial violence, due to the common investment of literary texts in thematizing moral complexity and complicity, and by drawing attention to intimate and social forms of harm that might otherwise go unaccounted for. Following the recent successful lawsuit against the British government by elderly Kenyans who survived torture in the 1950s, as well as recent historical scholarship on the colonial government's brutal counterinsurgency, I argue that the paradigmatic anticolonial event commonly referred to as the “Mau Mau” uprising has been reframed in terms of a series of grave human rights abuses. I examine the diverse ways in which the Mau Mau struggle has been figured in narrative fiction, focusing on works by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, and the white supremacist Robert Ruark. The dissertation shows literary texts to be sites of distinct forms of knowledge concerning the harms of political violence. My readings demonstrate that fictions of Mau Mau have figured that crisis as both a crime that demands urgent redress and an event whose damage is permanent and irreparable, each text staging in distinct ways the structuring paradox of historical reparation as an impossible ethical demand that must nonetheless be insisted upon. I think of reparations claims as radical decolonizing demands, countering recent critiques of the “politics of reparations” as a liberal departure from properly emancipationist thinking.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Edwards, Brent H.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 10, 2018