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Undercover and Hyper-Visible: Security Poetics and Pacification Prosaics in African American and Arab American Literature


My dissertation is a comparative analysis of Arab American and African American literature spanning from the Cold War era up to the present “War on ‘Terror.’” I examine how paradigms of security are constructed and contested within the texts under analysis, and argue that the writers’ recurrent trope of using socio-political struggle as a means of cohering transnational sentiments of solidarity constitutes a larger critique of the boundless scope of oppressive disciplinary paradigms. Furthermore, I show how the texts indicate—however implicitly or fleetingly—possibilities for a more egalitarian, alternative social order in place of the current hegemonic status quo.

Chapter One, “‘Relax! We not studying you guys:’ Making State Scrutiny (In)Visible Via Resistance Poetics,” is dedicated to a comparative analysis of African American June Jordan’s poetry (Living Room, 1985) and Palestinian American Suheir Hammad’s verse in Born Palestinian, Born Black (1993). I effect a close reading of select pieces from each collection to demonstrate how both consciously engage the direct overlap between state surveillance and disciplinary repression and ostensibly removed projects of imperial and colonial subjugation.

Chapter Two, “The Global Reach of the Racial Gaze: Cosmopolitanism (or Exile?) in William Gardner Smith’s The Stone Face and Sam Greenlee’s Baghdad Blues” begins by establishing some of the key conceptual frames for my dissertation. Reading Smith’s The Stone Face (1963) against Greenlee’s Baghdad Blues (1976), I consider Denise Ferreria da Silva’s contention of how an insufficient interrogation of the Enlightenment conception of “Man” allows for the instantiation of “the global” as an organizing apparatus for the perpetuation of worldly racial subjugation. Drawing from the writings of Edward Said, I close this chapter with a reappraisal of whether “cosmopolitanism” or “exile” constitutes the most appropriate framework for the extra-nationalist anti-racisms reflected in either text.

Chapter Three, “‘you stare at the cops for as long as they stare at you:’ Law and Disorder in the Novels of John A. Williams,” is dedicated to a consideration of Williams’ novels The Man Who Cried I Am (1967) and Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1969). Specifically, I consider how both novels evidence an urgent form of what I am calling “security poetics” through their categorization of the ultimate (often implicit) task of state and federal police as the perpetuation of racial inequality and liquidation of anti-hierarchical political visions, regardless of borders or boundaries.

The concluding chapter of my dissertation, “‘New World Disorder:’ Disfiguring a Perpetual Present,” takes up another assault of the post 9/11 climate that remains less-theorized: the assault upon time and history. Simply put, the War on Terror initiates an apparent arresting of temporal and historical progression vis-�-vis a perpetual present of interminable paranoia, protracted imperialism/colonization, and an ever-prefigured, preemptive necessity for racial punishment via global policing and incarceration. By way of a phenomenon I am currently terming “securitization’s disciplinary tautology,” the objectified subject of a charge of “terrorism” is deprived of any symbolic or rhetorical recourse towards exculpation. For these reasons, the writers under investigation in my final chapter (playwright Ismail Khalidi and novelist Mohja Kahf, respectively) engage in literary efforts that I classify as disfiguring, challenging the hegemonic and exceptionalist conceptions of “Terrorism” of the “War on ‘Terror’s’” perpetual present with the excavated histories of joint struggle, overlapping persecutions and common religious and cultural heritage.

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