This dissertation examines the literary and artistic discourses that emerge in the wake of massive sea migrations taking place throughout the Caribbean during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It asks how imagination and cultural production allow individual subjects to negotiate the need for difference and movement with a desire for recognition and communal belonging. Toward this end, I examine how practices of writing, reading, and performance can challenge and redefine the very limits of what we imagine identity and community might be.

Grounded in the field of comparative literature—and literary and cultural studies more broadly—the dissertation’s primary analytical methods are comparative textual analysis (close reading) and comparative visual analysis. Due to its transnational emphasis, the project’s theoretical conceptualization is informed by archipelagic thought, a relational approach to the study of islands and archipelagos that grows out of Édouard Glissant’s theory of the poetics of Relation. The literary texts, exhibitions, and performances I analyze were produced in the Caribbean and its diasporas during the late Cold War period in the 1980s through the present. Each of my primary objects of study deals, sometimes obliquely, with drifting subjects—those who have sunken or slipped beyond the threshold of conventional discourse. These figures range from exiles and the migrant dead to vagabonds or outcasts who threaten social and political norms.

By expanding the frame from international migration to movement more broadly, the dissertation complicates traditional frameworks of national identity in order to rethink movement itself as constituent of the human condition and identity as such. Central to the theorization of this dissertation, then, are questions of who gets to move and how, what modes of agency are enacted when one decides to move, and, perhaps of greatest significance, how the subject is constructed and continuously altered by this movement. Ultimately, I argue that these drifting and incoherent subjects offer an approach to thinking creative production as a practice of ongoing negotiation rather than a program for conventional and fixed forms of identity-making.

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