Caleb Smith

Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Greg Forter


This paper argues that Chris Abani’s GraceLand, in the structuring both of the novel’s diegetic and non-diegetic materials and of the presence of labor in the narrative, offers a model of how particularity can effect resistance to capital through iterative survival. The argument begins with a close explication of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s deconstructive reading of Capital, demonstrating how the phenomenon of capital operates and proliferates through a logical structure that simultaneously necessitates and must eradicate the particular labors and histories that ‘precede’ any given instance of capital. With this theoretical framework in hand, the argument looks to James. M. Hodapp, whose analysis of the role of the kola nut in Abani’s novel as a signifier of precolonial West-African culture that continues to survive and signify in the non-diegetic sections of a book about postcolonial Nigeria serves as a way into reading the interplay of GraceLand’s non-diegetic and diegetic materials as the iterative alternation of capital’s simultaneous need to sustain and to destroy the particular histories which “precede” it, concluding that it is actually the repetition of the particular in the logic of capital that performs a kind of resistance and holds open the possibility of a future where the particular outlasts capital. Then, the argument responds to the common refrain amonst Hodapp and other critics that GraceLand’s narrative demonstrates only the degenerative, destructive drive and consequences of postcolonial capital, suggesting that Elvis Oke’s iterative labors as a dancer and Elvis Presley impersonator actually repeat his experiences of precolonial Igbo culture, which for him are bound up with the feminine and the precolonial, and, moreover, that Elvis’s persistent return to these labors despite repeatedly getting caught up in the dehumanizing labors imposed upon him by capital again point to the possibility of resistance to capital through the iterative survival of its antecedents.


© 2020, Caleb Smith