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At Home in Pieces: Forms of Fragmentation in Caribbean and Jewish Diasporic Literatures


At Home in Pieces examines the traumas of displaced populations, of populations in fragments, through the lens of poetics. Through a comparative framework, I show how formal methods in diasporic literatures embody and make visible the conditions and consequences of displacement and loss. In particular, I bring into dialogue two seemingly disparate communities, Caribbean and Jewish in the U.K. and U.S. Scholars of diaspora have discussed resonances in Caribbean and Jewish histories of oppression and migration, and literary scholars have written on thematic convergences, but little has been said with regard to the significance of shared poetic and linguistic experimentation. My dissertation is organized around an aesthetic logic rather than solely geographic affiliations. Critical connections across literatures emerge when rarely linked writers are released from ossified representative roles based on family background, place, and time—when these writers are instead brought together to highlight creative kinships, as well as shared trauma. The project moves through four pairs of modern and contemporary writers, aligned by parallels in the form and function of fragmentation within their work—Charles Reznikoff and Fred D’Aguiar, Nicole Krauss and Zadie Smith, Grace Nichols and Laura (Riding) Jackson, and Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky.

The project considers diaspora through theories of translation—as a performance of a continual imperfect return to cultural heritage that demonstrates a desire for continuity but is still keenly attuned to gaps and elisions. I construe the fragment in diasporic literature as an embodied gift between generations that can be repurposed and modified for new contexts, akin to sampling in contemporary music culture. Like music, the fragmented form creates the potential for a felt encounter with meaning, rather than dictating a specific response, through effects of rhythm and arrangement. Connecting scholarship in translation and music, I present a theory of “fragment sampling,” an adaptive aesthetic mode through which the texts I analyze engender a space of “in-betweenness”: past and present are contemporaneous, multiple narrative threads weave through simultaneously, and languages intersect and impact each other. I trace similarities in poetic and linguistic experimentation to show how each text confronts intergenerational trauma, imagines a reconstitution of home and self-identity, and illuminates patterns of relation that reject the stringency of national boundaries.

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