Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)
The Routes of Uranium and Its Impact on Indigenous Communities in Canada and across the Pacific
This dissertation examines the emergence of racial grids, which define and organize categories of racial difference in relation to one another in a hierarchical manner, in Canada, Singapore, and Malaysia. It considers their varied approaches to embodied lived experiences of race and as belonging to a broader logic of raciality across the postcolonial world. This project focuses on three thematic points of comparison: the use of English as a mediator of racial distinction; the lasting influence of narratives of raciality that emerged during moments of inter-communal violence; and more recent recastings of these grids under forms of state-directed multiculturalism under conditions of globalization. This project examines these issues through sociopolitical theory and socio-juridical documents, as well as through Asian Canadian literature and post-Independence writing in English from Malaysia and Singapore. Drawing the work of Denise Ferreira da Silva, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida, this dissertation theorizes a figuration called the racial nonhuman in order to analyze how race organizes populations based on human types and defines them against an ideal, that is white and European, human. The racial nonhuman is engendered by historical, socio-juridical, and aesthetic discourses that render particular bodies as simultaneously within these nations and their demands for different racial types, but outside their ideal body politic. I analyze works by Fred Wah, Shirley Lim, Larissa Lai, Tan Twan Eng, and Lydia Kwa to compare how these nations have instituted and maintained their racial grids, as well as to examine how the racial nonhuman is contested and reimagined across these contexts.
This thesis examines the relation between race and intimacy, particularly the ways in which intimacy is used in film and literature as an aesthetic strategy to resist heteropatriarchal and colonial constructions of racialized subjectivities, histories, and knowledge. Drawing from Lisa Lowe’s recent The Intimacies of Four Continents, I argue that Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night and Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Surname Viet Given Name Nam reframe intimacy by engaging with the residual and emergent to emphasize the lesser known forms of kinship and alliance between different colonized groups of people. In Chapter 1, I trace articulations of reticent intimacies in Cereus Blooms and contend that they generate an anticolonial mode of remembering that reimagines intergenerational relationships. Mootoo’s emphasis on historical gaps, fragments, and erasures to reconstruct narratives demonstrates a practice of reticent intimacy that challenges linear narratives and historical memory. In Chapter 2, I explore how Surname Viet depicts a transnational feminist intimacy through a narrative arc that reflects a transformation to visuality. The film makes visible palimpsest identities engendered through intimacies-in-motion as Vietnamese American women’s stories are inscribed with traces of the colonial past. This interdisciplinary project not only furthers understandings of the relation between the politics of intimacy and racialized subjectivities, but it also suggests aesthetic strategies of reading for alternative modernities that push beyond limits of inherited genealogies of liberal humanism to reveal possibilities of knowing what has been assumed to be erased, lost, and forgotten.