Dissertation: Subjects Adrift


My dissertation, “Subjects Adrift,” explores 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. Focusing on texts that engage issues of mobility, migration, and social deviancy, I ask how creative production allows individuals to negotiate the need for difference and movement with a desire for recognition and communal belonging. Toward this end, I conduct comparative textual and visual analyses of literary texts, exhibitions, and performances whose formal experimentation unmoors rigid nation-centered paradigms, such as the categories of “citizen” or “refugee.” I read these texts in a manner that shows how the very conception of the subject is not simply unstable, but in fact constituted through a drifting movement.

Each of my primary objects of study deals, sometimes obliquely, with drifting figures—those who have sunken or slipped beyond the threshold of conventional discourse. Ranging from exiles and the migrant dead to vagabonds or outcasts who threaten social and political norms, their subjecthood is defined by their movement through circumstances of precarity or constraint. Just as these figures drift, so do the texts themselves: poetry and fiction by Mayra Santos Febres, Edwidge Danticat, and Rita Indiana blur and collapse time to link contemporary migration and ecological crises with the region’s histories of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade; theatrical and hybrid works by María Irene Fornés and Reina María Rodríguez consider improvised and “makeshift” responses to scarcity as metaphors for the creative process. I show that the formal experimentation within these works produces a Caribbean subject for whom movement, rather than stasis, becomes a way of relating to others while retaining individual agency.

By expanding the frame from international migration to movement more broadly, I complicate the traditional framework of national identity in order to rethink movement itself as constituent of the human condition as such. Ultimately, I argue that these drifting figures offer an approach to conceptualizing the subject itself as an effect of creative production, characterized not by fixed categories, but by a makeshift process of ongoing negotiation and relation.


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