"Temples for tomorrow" : African American speculative fiction and historical narrative

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ABSTRACT In 1993, cultural critic Mary Dery coined the term "Afrofuturism" as a means of describing a then nascent aesthetic movement emerging across a variety of media forms. As he defined the term: "Speculative fiction which treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture— and, more generally, African American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future." As such, he primarily defines black speculative thought in relation to technology and privileges a forward-looking trajectory. While I consider Dery's intervention to be both an important and necessary one, I nonetheless wish to push back against this assumption. This is not in an antagonistic way, but in the interest of not privileging visions of the future over speculative works which engage in other modes of temporality. Works such as Charles Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman (1898) or Samuel Delany's Neveryon stories set in a pre-modern secondary world, are not necessarily "futurist" per se, but I believe them to be just as vital to the black cultural imaginary as works which look beyond our contemporary moment. Moreover, these works serve as more than mere escapism. They serve the invaluable purpose of constructing a "usable past" to serve as the foundation for a more utopian future. This dissertation looks at this phenomenon in three different facets. The first would be stories about the African American folk magic tradition known as Conjure and the ways in which it serves as a means of resisting the culturally homogenizing forces of modernity by enabling the performance of a uniquely black ethnic identity. The second highlights speculative visions of Africa and the ways that they express a nostalgia for a homeland to which one has never been. And finally, speculative neo-slave narratives which address the eerie afterlife of slavery and ways in which its impact can be felt in the present day, in impactful if seemingly intangible ways. These speculative visions serve a purpose beyond mere escapism, they help lay the foundation for more utopian visions of the future by constructing a "usable past.".


Type of resource text
Form electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
Extent 1 online resource.
Place California
Place [Stanford, California]
Publisher [Stanford University]
Copyright date 2019; ©2019
Publication date 2019; 2019
Issuance monographic
Language English


Author Shephard, Walter Andrew
Degree supervisor Moya, Paula M. L
Thesis advisor Moya, Paula M. L
Thesis advisor Lunsford, Andrea A, 1942-
Thesis advisor McGurl, Mark, 1966-
Thesis advisor Yaszek, Lisa, 1969-
Degree committee member Lunsford, Andrea A, 1942-
Degree committee member McGurl, Mark, 1966-
Degree committee member Yaszek, Lisa, 1969-
Associated with Stanford University, English Department.


Genre Theses
Genre Text

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility W. Andrew Shephard.
Note Submitted to the English Department.
Thesis Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2019.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2019 by Walter Andrew Shephard
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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