Narrative privacy : keeping secrets in contemporary Native American, Mexican American, and Asian American metafictions

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2015-05

Authors

Eils, Colleen Gleeson

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Abstract

This dissertation considers twenty-first century metafictional novels and short stories by Native American, Mexican American, and Asian American authors who use literary form to theorize the politics of ethnic privacy. These authors use metafictional strategies to situate the well-meaning desires of academic and popular readers for ethnic literary representation within historical contexts in which increased visibility for ethnic people often compromised rather than improved their status. Using a formal maneuver I term “narrative privacy,” the writers in this project explicitly withhold stories from readers to maintain control over the most intimate parts of their lives and as an assertion of the social and political dangers that often accompany the mass dissemination of ethnic representations in the post-9/11 age. The dissertation’s three chapters each focus on a specific context of compulsory visibility—ethnographic, capitalistic, and archival—that authors use narrative privacy to resist. The dissertation opens with a reading of David Treuer’s The Translation of Dr. Apelles (2006), Sherman Alexie’s “Dear John Wayne” (2000), Rigoberto González’s Crossing Vines (2003), and Nam Le’s “The Boat” (2008) as rejecting ethnographic imperatives in ethnic literature. By constructing private spaces for their characters within the narrative, Treuer, Alexie, González and Le destabilize persistent understandings of ethnic peoples as available subjects of study for the curious. Chapter two considers how Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (2005) and Le’s “Love and Honor” (2008) position writers’ and readers’ literary gazes as privileged acts of dominance and surveillance that mimic oppressive U.S. political and economic processes that target people of color. Monique Truong understands literary and historical inclusion of marginalized subjectivities as potentially confining rather than validating in The Book of Salt (2003), the focus of the third chapter. Truong argues that well-meaning academic practices of historical and literary recovery reinscribe the authority of written records that have long diminished and excluded marginalized subjectivities. In conclusion, I argue that these narrative strategies indicates a vibrant formal and political shift in contemporary ethnic U.S. fiction that attends to some of the most urgent questions of privacy and surveillance in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century U.S.

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