Within the context of North American literature, writers from marginalized groups have written alternative histories and offered counter-narratives, in active resistance to the silences that have structured the histories of colonization and cultural exclusion. And yet, just as writers begin to address and give a voice to silenced perspectives in history, Toni Morrison, among others (including Gayatri Spivak and Trinh T. Minh-ha), calls attention to the ineffability of the past, and warns against unquestioning use of language as a natural pathway to justice and empowerment. Literary projects that aspire to bring into words what has been silenced and erased in systems of knowledge production are thus confronted with a paradox – their own medium of coming to voice is coded by the same structures of silencing and exclusion that they set out to resist.
To address this dilemma, this book examines four contemporary North American novels – Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987), David Treuer’s Little (1995), Marlene Nourbese Philip's Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence (1991), and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée (1982). All the four novels are, in their unique and creative ways, aesthetically engaged with the critical debate over the limit of language and the ineffability of experiences such as slavery, war, as well as the loss of life, land and cultural knowledges in the process of colonialization. They all, in one way or another, gravitate toward a strategy of using words to foreground the silence/ ineffability of the past. Approaching silence as both a category of analysis and a category of literary practice, the book explores the aesthetical and ethical implications of silence in the literary effort to articulate what has been lost and erased in the current historical narratives. What’s more, the book examines how a poethics of silence could inform the establishment of a mode of literary representation that allows the unsayable to assert its irreducible presence.
about the author
Born in Shanghai, China, Xin Li is doing her postdoctoral research at University of Bayreuth, Germany. She holds a PhD in transcultural Anglophone studies. Her dissertation is entitled “Saying the Unsayable – Poethics of Silence in Contemporary North American Narratives”. Her fields of research include postcolonial literary studies, gender studies, intersectional studies, posthuman studies. Her recent publications includes “Unmaking Silence & FutureS in the Midst of ‘The Passing Dreams of Choice” in Passages: Metaphors, Narratives and Concepts (2023) published by UCL Press. Xin Li was a visiting scholar at University College London and is currently teaching intersectionality and gender studies at the University of Bayreuth. She serves as co-speaker of Network on Gender, Queer, Intersectionality and Diversity at the University of Bayreuth.