"The world is full of islands": literary revision and the production of a transnational Robinson Crusoe

Fallon, Ann Marie Weisensee, Department of English, University of Virginia
Wall, Cynthia, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Felski, Rita, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Ramazani, Jahan, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the continuing presence of Robinson Crusoe in late twentieth century world literature. Since the 1960s, the figure of Crusoe and his island have proliferated in literature produced across the regions once traversed by the Atlantic slave trade, demonstrating the historical, political and aesthetic connections in literary production over time and across space. Critics who maintain a sharp divide between the 'original' ur-text and the texts that engage or 'resist' it, inadvertently maintain a hierarchical relationship between colonial and postcolonial literature, between a 'founding' text and its re-creations. In reading transnational identities within Robinson Crusoe and revisions of Robinson Crusoe. I do not efface the importance of national literatures, but I do emphasize the connections between literatures across political boundaries. As important as it is to read texts for historical, political and geographic content, it is as important to read them in an international context. I am arguing for a more nuanced reading of revision. one that allows for possibilities beyond resistance, a reading that is more akin to the practice of dissidence or dissent.

Writing years after the fall of the British Empire, contemporary writers transform Crusoe and his island, even the genre of the novel, from a vehicle of British colonial imagination into a representation of the postcolonial and the transnational condition. This condition is as much psychoanalytic as linguistic and aesthetic as political. Throughout all of these texts, I read homelessness as a central narrative motif; this sense of placelessness gestures toward the deep dislocations of the postmodern and postcolonial conditions. Chapter one charts the representation of the island and literary revision in Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. I demonstrate that Crusoe's island is ultimately not represented as a successful colony; rather it is an unnamed, uncharted space that Crusoe attempts alternately to escape, to revise and to unsuccessfully dismiss. In revising the metaphors of the island, the New World and the castaway, Defoe renders a portrait of the writer as unsettled, solitary and intimately connected to the colonial project at home and abroad; chapter two describes the implications of these readings for Caribbean writers Derek Walcott and Sam Selvon, at home and in post-impe1ial Britain. Chapter three documents the traces of Crusoe on the landscape of South African writing. Chapter four argues that the cannibal schoolgirls of Marianne Wiggins reveal the literary and psychological horror of revision. Chapter five examines the deserted island in the Argentine novel, Música para olvidar una isla by Victoria Slavuski, and explores the continuing violence and dislocation of the transnational experience. Slavuski substitutes "translation" for revision as a marker of a contemporary aesthetic practice and in doing so suggests an alternative geographic metaphor for resurveying the literary landscape of Robinson Crusoe.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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