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Ordinary Failures: Toward a Diasporan Ethics

  • Author(s): Owen, Ianna Hawkins
  • Advisor(s): Scott, Darieck B.
  • et al.
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In Ordinary Failures I develop a new conception of “diaspora” as the ordinary failure of recognitions and solidarities founded on ideological and ancestral ties. Informed by the queer studies turn toward negativity and the relational turn in African diaspora studies, my project examines the interventions of artists and writers of the diaspora who opt to recite intraracial failure (between blacks) in the face of their structurally overdetermined failure as minoritized subjects. I identify in textual and visual objects an engagement with the promise of intimacy attendant to the artist’s lived experience of diaspora and there I aim to expose the limits of diaspora discourse. My explorations of the failures of diaspora are aided by pushing on queer theories of negativity to speak to race. This project departs from traditional approaches to black failure such as the black mainstream’s condemnation or eschewal of black failure in favor of respectability politics and the black left’s redemption of failure through revisionist narratives of resistance. In doing so, this project holds space for betrayal, exhaustion, and laziness without fear of reifying speculations on the failures of blackness to allow for visions of blackness that are unbound by the binary racial logic of success and failure and instead turn our eyes toward instances in which resistance and defeat are overlapping.

In the first chapter, “Reciting Diaspora,” I examine diasporic misrecognitions in the memoirs Lose Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman, Triangular Road by Paule Marshall, and My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid to interrogate what is at stake for the black diasporic memoirist in reciting failure, and the strategies these authors employ to reconcile themselves with the damage incurred in these moments of misrecognition. The second chapter, “The Repetition of Betrayal,” wrestles with the “cruel optimism” of racial solidarity and the afterlife of the suggestion of betrayal in the artwork of Wilmer Jennings to understand how the repetitive and reductive form of wood engravings contributes to a visual language of intraracial solidarity, vulnerability, and intimacy. Chapter three, “A woman should have something of her own,” examines black feminine tiredness in the neo-slave narrative Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler, the history of slave suicide, and challenges readings of resistance. The final chapter, “Desireless Diasporans,” examines black asexuality and black idleness and argues for the liberatory potential of failing to contribute to normative social and economic reproductivity.

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This item is under embargo until November 2, 2020.