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Title: Cultivation and Catastrophe: Forms of Nature in Twentieth-Century Poetry of the Black Diaspora
Authors: Posmentier, Sonya
Advisors: Stewart, Susan
Brooks, Daphne A
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: black studies
Subjects: Literature
African American studies
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Hurricane Katrina has made explicit the connection between racial and environmental experience, a connection taken up, for instance, in Spike Lee's documentary <italic>When the Levees Broke</italic>, the HBO series <italic>Treme</italic>, and Kara Walker's art volume <italic>After the Deluge</italic>. This connection did not begin to emerge in the twenty-first century but rather has a long tradition in black diasporic writing, a tradition that has remained surprisingly robust in the United States and the Caribbean for the last century in spite of urban migration, immigration, and the legacy of enforced agricultural labor. Whereas scholars of diaspora largely situate black modernity within an urban framework, <italic>Cultivation and Catastrophe</italic> remaps the geography of diasporic culture, inviting readers of African American and postcolonial literature to imagine environmental experience as a crucial force in shaping black modernism and poetic form. The turbulence of the hurricane is a driving theoretical model in <italic>Cultivation and Catastrophe</italic>. I trace the metaphorical and metonymical relationship between the legacy of slavery's forced migrations and the violent displacements produced by destructive tropical storms. The works I address take their shape not only from destruction but from the oscillations between catastrophe and cultivation. These terms are metaphors for human experiences of growth and displacement, and descriptions of agricultural and natural processes that have had material implications for black communities and their environments. I focus on lyric poetry-as a discrete genre and as it intersects with other forms, from novels to the blues-because its structures allow writers to address varieties of natural time, whether cyclical, unpredictable, fragmentary, or subject to the forces of anthropocentrism. My project makes the case for poetry as the quintessential genre of diaspora, revealing a black poetics capacious enough to encompass the disjunctive transnational ecologies of diverse post-slavery landscapes. <italic>Cultivation and Catastrophe</italic> detours through the landscapes of slave labor, Jim Crow, colonial violence, hurricanes, and floods, to explore how writers of the African diaspora transform these wounded environments into spaces for artistic innovation. Demonstrating the inextricability of these landscapes from the human experiences they contain, I argue that black poetry transforms the very category of environmental writing. To that end, Claude McKay's provision ground, Derek Walcott's pastoral, Zora Neale Hurston's "jumping dances," Sterling Brown's blues poems, and Kamau Brathwaite's "scatta archives" become the grounds upon which we not only encounter history and comprehend new aesthetic geographies, but also reimagine the relationship between nature and culture.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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