Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)
Toward lyric disunities: Late modern political ecologies of South Asian diasporic poetry, 1970s to 2000s
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Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
In contrast to human judgement, which is fallible and inscrutable, numbers claim to speak for themselves and therefore reduce the potential for disagreement and conflict. Scholars have argued that quantification, as a method for achieving objectivity, emerges most often in situations of distance and distrust. In addition to distance and distrust, this thesis examines the use of quantification in the councils of trade and plantations in seventeenth century England to argue that the desire for economic stability also facilitates the emergence of objectivity. By the middle of the seventeenth century, England’s continuing civil wars were proving to be an impediment to England’s nascent commercial empire. As a result, colonial merchants and statesmen such as Thomas Povey and Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, proposed that a separate government based on the use of quantification and information be established for the colonies to keep both domestic and colonial politics from disrupting the seamless management of trade for the wealth and welfare of England. I argue that this body of government represents the emergence of a regime of quantification based on the desire to stabilize the economic domain and shelter it from the value-ridden and unpredictable domain of politics. I first show how the councils for trade and plantations were set up in the tradition of information collection and analysis, specifically that of political arithmetic, that had developed amongst English scientific and social reformers. I argue that the nature of information, as developed by reformers like Francis Bacon and Samuel Hartlib, allowed for the separation of the act of collection from the act of analysis and reserved judgement for those at the top of the information hierarchy. Using the example of Barbados, I show how this ‘objective’ information, as deployed by the councils for trade and plantations, became a tool for effacing political judgement and for transforming political problems into administrative ones. Ultimately, I argue that the regime of quantification and information that allowed for the separation of politics from economic management in colonial government prefigures the separation between economy and society that defines our contemporary political-economy.
This thesis explores the political and intellectual context of Hayden White’s theory of metahistory. I situate metahistory as developing parallel to identity politics and postmodernist frameworks, particularly in their application to theorizations of trans and queer liberation. Despite White’s wide-reaching and long-lasting reception, he is rarely considered in light of the socio-politics of the 1970s. I read him alongside the rethinking of marginalized identity in academia which was necessitated by the mass liberation movements of the 1960s and foreshadowed the economic crises of the 80s. This thesis contends that White’s criticism of “radical historiography” renaturalizes liberalism as non-ideological and ahistorical. By analyzing White, I aim to show the ideological meaning of comparative historical thinking even as it understands itself to be non-ideological, and I advocate for a non-comparative historicism in analyzing oppression. Extending this analysis, this thesis reveals the dominance of a transhistorical mode of analyzing oppression across schools, including in popular currents in feminism, queer theory, trans theory, and identity politics. These trends which reject objective knowledge and historical truth in favor of subjective historicity join White in renegotiating the familiar territory of liberal universalism into the language of social justice. To develop this analysis, I foreground two contemporary science fiction texts: Jeanette Winterson’s FranKissStein and David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future. I read the politics of queer liberation and bodily modification as they appear in each of these fictions. Ultimately, this thesis is a materialist interpretation of the imaginations of gender-based liberation in contemporary SF, which I see as abiding to a transhistorical mode co-emergent with that which White develops in his Metahistory.