Theses Doctoral

Arts of the Impossible: Violence, Trauma, and Erasure in the Global South

Gervasio, Nicole Marie

This dissertation examines how contemporary Anglophone, Hispanophone, and Francophone literature from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and South Asia (1984-present) reconfigures historical archives to negotiate the ethics of representing state violence in repressive societies. I identify new literary forms politically conscious writers are devising to capture and contest human rights violations. Using an interdisciplinary decolonial feminist framework, I closely read works by Cristina Peri Rossi, Michael Ondaatje, M. NourbeSe Philip, Edwidge Danticat, Boubacar Boris Diop, and Roberto Bolaño— a diverse set of postcolonial and post-dictatorship writers never before compared in comparative literature. I call these writers’ endeavors to reframe traumatic history “arts of the impossible,” which defy the alleged unrepresentability of collective trauma to secure justice and forestall impunity. I compare representations of wide-ranging atrocities including forced disappearance, slavery, genocide, and femicide— crimes exemplifying what I term “ontological erasure.” At stake in ontological erasure are not simply lost perspectives from multiply marginalized victims, like women and queer people of color, but the very possibility of citizenship and the will to dissent state recognition enables. To resist the threats posed by the authorization of these crimes to political freedom, these writers, I argue, reinvent evidentiary forms historically suppressed by authoritarian states, including court transcripts, testimonies, forensic reports, and national archives. These authors’ innovations push the boundaries of what counts as “evidence” in acts of state violence that are uniquely determined by erasure; they also imagine new methods for remembering past atrocities without compromising recognition for stigmatized minorities in the future.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Hirsch, Marianne
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 14, 2018