Theses Doctoral

Sites of Inscription: Writing In and Against Post-Plantation Geographies

Kelley, Elleza

“Sites of Inscription” argues that creative works allow us to trace black epistemologies of space and time in the United States. Reading works of literature and art from the 19th century to the present, I trace how black people have creatively mis-used, reimagined, and transformed the spatial technologies of the plantation and its geographic afterlife. My project specifically asks how the “literary” in black literary geographies reveals and preserves black spatial praxes in ways that exceed the capacities of dominant modes of Western spatial representation such as conventional maps, blueprints or land surveys. Each chapter considers literary form in particular to be intimately related to the production and representation of space by black people—both as ways of expressing the experience of living under spatial technologies of racialized management, enclosure and exploitation, and as ways of expressing resistance to these technologies and the underwriting epistemologies they reproduce.

Employing a palimpsestic practice of reading, I gather texts written across periods but which cohere around a single spatial formation that stages the tensions of (post)plantation geographies—fences, city blocks, apartments, and rooftops. Reading works by W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, and Zora Neale Hurston, I consider the relationship between writing and enclosure in the South during and immediately after slavery. Moving North and into the 20th century, I consider representations of the city block in work by Romare Bearden, Tonya Foster, and Langston Hughes. The art of apartment living in Chicago is explored through readings of Kerry James Marshall and Gwendolyn Brooks. I conclude on the rooftop, where Claude Brown, Piri Thomas, and Faith Ringgold document its creative re-production. All four chapters explore the impact of these radical acts of counter-planning, and efforts to represent them, on literary form and genre—concluding that formal experimentations are precisely what allow literature and visual art to archive these fugitive and fleeting engagements with space.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Griffin, Farah Jasmine
Edwards, Brent Hayes
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2021