American narrative geography: A thousand frontiers

William Sherman Webster, Purdue University


This study examines the implications of the French post-structuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze calling American literature a literature of “frontiers.” By tying together various strands of the theories of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, it can be seen that the concept of “frontier” is not limited to geographic determinations. On the contrary, the frontier appears to be linked to imaginative and conceptual spaces that lie at the heart of the American experience. This study theorizes the ways in which this multi-dimensional concept of the frontier can be observed in five different American narratives. First, it is argued that William Faulkner's Bundren family in As I Lay Dying replicates the boundaries by which capitalist social order represses desire through its primary form for producing identities-the nuclear family. In the case of As I Lay Dying, the family presents boundaries that desire is unable to escape. Second, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer is shown as a possible answer to the repression of desire through oedipal forms of identity formation. Cancer enacts the American dream of the frontier as the novel's narrator leaves a perceived dead America for Paris. Henry turns Paris into a kind of American frontier where, through writing, he produces a new subjectivity not only in France, but also in the space of the text itself. Third, Toni Morrison's two novels Sula and Beloved demonstrate her concern with the boundaries circumscribing processes of interpretation and the formation of historical memory. These novels cross those boundaries to find the frontier space necessary for producing meanings and memories that lie outside conventional ways of adducing knowledge. Fourth, this study takes a look at a relatively recent American film about cross-cultural encounter: Dances with Wolves. This reading goes beyond the cliches about white-Indian contact and argues that the film portrays possibilities and procedures for cross-cultural contact that may not have been foreseen by the makers of the film. In the end, this study attempts to show that “frontiers” lie at the heart of American narrative consciousness. ^




Major Professor: Wendy Stallard Flory, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American Studies|Philosophy|Literature, American|Cinema

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