"One foot on the other side" : suicideality in contemporary African diaspora fiction
When this dissertation first began to take shape, it was in response to a period of wide reading of African diaspora fiction--my comprehensive exam preparations-- wherein I began noticing the sheer number of suicides I was encountering. After some preliminary research, I was further struck by how little criticism confronted this literary trope in African diaspora texts. In the beginning, I assumed that this phenomenon was the manifestation of the contemporary focus on mental health and mental illness, which while largely a product of Western medicine, neoliberal discourses of self-reliance and Capitalist "self-care" branding, has certainly been circulating globally for a number of years now. Thus, I expected this dissertation to be a discussion of Africana writers' efforts to resist, revise, combine or consolidate these discourses with the cultural, political, and ontological concerns of Blackness, ultimately offering a new, more Africanized method of thinking through mental health and mental illness. In some ways, this proved true; in particular, I believe this is evident and legible through the Ogbanje and abiku fiction discussed in chapter four of this dissertation. However, over time this project outgrew that framework, and efforts to link Black literary suicides to the real world experiences of suicidality and mental illness became at best, specious, and at worst pathologizing. Thus, with mere months before my planned defense, I reconceived of what the work of this project actually is. The primary points that I hope this project makes are as follows: 1. Suicide is a foundational and constitutive trope of what we might call Anglophone African diaspora literatures. 2. Suicide in these texts is experienced on the level of community: by their nature, these suicides subordinate the individual's "right" to life to the collective's hopes for survival. 3. These representations of suicide reflect an Afrocentric, nonlinear conception of time and space. Often, suicides occur because of the belief that another simultaneous reality exists and is accessible through the death of the body. 4. Western, neoliberal tropes of the individual as improvable and perhaps even perfectible through introspection and work have throughout the 60-year scope of this project put pressure on the Afro-centric, collective literary meaning of suicides. 5. Contemporary African diasporic fiction is marked by its willingness to engage with 3 and 4 simultaneously, as ideas that are in tension, but not conflict, and which therefore do not require resolution. 6. Ultimately, African literature operating under what I term suicideality offers radical political potential because it constructs modes of collaboration and coalition across boundaries, especially boundaries between life and death/living and dead. Therefore, rather than significant emphasis on the sociological or medical discourses of suicide, this project will be focused on interrogating the imaginative act of suicide and its implications within African diaspora literature; particularly, I am interested in the ways the imaginative act of suicide articulates ontology, space-time, and the body. Therefore, I will draw from Black psychology as well as literary theory, political manifestos, Black Atlantic theories and Black feminist theories of assemblage. [DIACRITICS NEEDED]
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