Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Andrew C. Rajca

Second Advisor

Michael Dowdy

Abstract

This dissertation explores contemporary Afro-diasporic literatures by black cultural producers in the United States and Brazil that resist, subvert, and dismantle the persistent myth of Brazilian racial democracy. From the US, I investigate John Keene’s 2015 collection of stories and novellas Counternarratives, in addition to Gayl Jones’ 2021 novel Palmares. Conversely, from Brazil, I examine Conceição Evaristo’s 2003 novel Ponciá Vicêncio, as well as the black trans musician and slam poet Bixarte’s social media performance art. Although these Afro-diasporic literatures deconstruct the myth of racial democracy in Brazil, at the same time, each is entangled with what Patricia de Santana Pinho defines as “the myth of Mama Africa,” that is, the international black imaginary. With this in mind, and in concert with Michelle D. Commander’s notion of “Afro-Atlantic speculation,” I analyze how Keene, Jones, Evaristo, and Bixarte, respectively, represent “Mama Africa” in Brazil and what Christina Sharpe calls “Black being in the wake of slavery.” I read these Afro-diasporic authors’ respective literatures as affective Afro-speculative imaginings of a black diasporic community in Brazil that represent the material realities of everyday black peoples living with hemispheric American racism—the afterlives of colonialism and slavery. Correspondingly, in dialogue with Jayna Brown’s Black Utopias, I shift the notion of utopia into the “nospace” of non-citizenship, what Fred Moten theorizes as “statelessness,” the liminal existence of being in the revolutionary interval between subject and object. Via statelessness, Keene, Jones, Evaristo, and Bixarte perform “black utopia” in their Afro-speculative representations of Mama Africa and/or Améfrica in Brazil, each of which functions as a “counter-narrative” to (inter)national discourses of racial democracy. However, I also employ Djamila Ribeiro’s theory of “lugar de fala” along with Lélia Gonzalez’s concept of “Améfrica” to critique the intradiasporic hegemony of African American cultural production within the discursive space of the international black imaginary. Ultimately, I argue that these Afro-diasporic literatures offer admonitions against recapitulating discourses of the nation-state in community-building projects of the international black imaginary. Accordingly, this dissertation rejects the transnational turn in African diaspora studies as an essentialist critical perspective that parallels nationbuilding discourses of miscegenation and racial democracy.

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