Sammy Moriarty (KCL) - 2021-22 Students

"Residual Life: the wastes of whiteness and the limits of the human in American literature, 1830-1920 "

At the intersection of the entwined legacies of racial capitalism and environmental violence that fuelled America’s colonial growth is the construction of whiteness, which rested on plantation’s extractive consumption and violent ejection of the beings which it casts as fungible and disposable. Whiteness is, through this, rooted in a rigid ontology of the human. My project investigates how some writers of the American long nineteenth-century imagine alternatives to this white-supremacist conception of the ‘human’. I focus on the human-nonhuman relation that resist the claims of extraction and racialisation through recent interventions in ecocritical and critical race theories, and the work of writers such as Melville, Chesnutt, Alice Dunbar Nelson and Toomer. I argue that there are many forms of ‘residual life’ teeming in the literature of the period which frustrate the mutually-constructed taxonomies of humanness and race at the heart of whiteness’ ravaging fictions. Its core methodology, like Muñoz’s ‘hermeneutics of residue’, attempts to skim the ephemera of the archive of American empire for ‘what is left? what remains?’ among its textual and material ruins, whilst remaining invested in the residual modes of organismic life that linger beyond the normative temporal and spatial bounds upon which the ‘human’ relies.

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