Dissertation

 

Bodily and Narrative Fragmentation: Wounds, Scars, and Feminist Healing in Selected Novels by Postmodern Multiethnic American Women”

This dissertation explores the symbol of the wounded and scarred female body in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée, Phyllis Alesia Perry’s Stigmata, Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, Emma Pérez’s Gulf Dreams, Paula Gunn Allen’s The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, and Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School and Empire of the Senseless. Using feminist and postmodern theories, the dissertation discovers that, while the fragmented body is a symbol of intersecting avenues of oppression, including patriarchy, racism, classism, and heteronormativity, it also catalyzes feminist unions through recognition, thus generating resistance and healing.

Award: Graduate Student Outstanding Research Award for dissertation.

Argument of Dissertation My dissertation explores the symbol of the wounded and scarred female body in selected postmodern multiethnic American women’s novels, namely Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée, Phyllis Alesia Perry’s Stigmata, Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, Emma Pérez’s Gulf Dreams, Paula Gunn Allen’s The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, and Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School and Empire of the Senseless. In each of these novels, disjointed, postmodern writing reflects the novel’s focus on fragmented female bodies. The wounded and scarred body emerges from various, often intersecting, forms of oppression, including patriarchy, racism, classism, and heteronormativity. This dissertation emphasizes the different and nuanced forms of oppression each woman faces. However, while the fragmented body symbolizes oppression and pain, it also catalyzes resistance through recognition. When female characters recognize some element of a shared oppression, they form bonds with one another. These feminist unities, as a response to multiple forms of oppression, become viable means for resistance and healing. 
Value and Contribution of Research Several of these novels have received almost no scholarship whatsoever. Moreover, we lack a theoretically informed way of reading the female body in women’s literature. Therefore, these novels are paired thematically and examined through feminist and postmodern lenses; only Rosi Braidotti, Elizabeth Grosz, and a few others, however, provide theoretical frameworks for this type of study. Therefore, the theoretical angle I develop in this dissertation contributes to a larger, needed conversation about the fragmented female body and the feminist connections that can repair it. 
Applications to Teaching The swath of literature I discuss in this dissertation prepares me to teach many courses: surveys in American and multiethnic literature, or more specialized courses in African American, Native American, or women’s literatures, for example. I have discovered that students connect much more deeply with twentieth-century, multiethnic literature than with much of the canonical literature to which they have already had much exposure. I have already used my dissertation in research and composition courses to encourage more critical engagement with their arguments; my argument, for example, explodes the typical binary between body and soul, an argument that urges students to avoid simple dualisms in their essays. 
Relevance to Future Research I chose a dissertation topic that would provide me with plenty of research and publication options. Many of the novels I discuss have endless publication opportunities, and there are also many other multiethnic women’s novels in need of exploration, particularly as their genre connects to issues of embodiment. Moreover, my dissertation, when turned into a book, will begin to fill the theoretical gap we have in discussing the historically fragmented female body.