Reinventing the Museum
Focusing on elegiac dimensions of the museum, Reinventing the Museum: Textured Materiality in Modern and Contemporary Women’s Elegies contends that Eavan Boland, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gwendolyn Brooks help us conceive a new spatial imaginary, which addresses traditionally underrepresented subject matters and historiographies with ethical alertness. Reading their works and their affective-experiential modes through an interdisciplinary feminist lens, this dissertation explores the ways in which the four women poets revise and update Julia Kristeva’s foundational concept of women’s time. Their decision to draw from museums—both physical and metaphorical—foregrounds woman’s embodied self and its relational ontology, ultimately to challenge the dominant dynamics of historiographical, literary canon formation. Functioning as bookends are my chapters on Boland and Brooks whose writings about Irish and Black experiences respectively explore tactics of space-making at the face of postcolonial, post-slavery displacements and diasporas. Taking Boland’s museum elegies as a point of departure, I move on to Plath’s plastic self-elegies where an inquiry into the plasticity of the self and theatrics of self-exhibit happens. Next, I examine Bishop’s shift from Enlightenment taxonomization to love as a possible antidote to enlightenment culture. Straddling between love poetry and elegy, Bishop’s prismatic love elegies often cast a discursive journey to proto-museums with the beloved as a figure for love. Her occasional superimposition of the lover on the racial other gestures towards Brooks’s necropolitical elegies and elegies of necropolitics, the latter of which resonate with the mission of Black neighborhood museums. Each assigned with a textured materiality—textile, plastic, light, and firmness, respectively—the chapters are divided into three sections that proceed from the poets’ problem posing to their attempt to think through the identified problem. On a broader scale, the chapters progress from the most concrete, fungible, and tangible materiality to the least, which points to a way of being, an attitude towards life. Assigning textured materialities to each chapter additionally draws attention to the interstices between the formal materiality of poetic language and nonlinguistic gestures and speech sounds. In this manner, my project actively builds on the momentum of and expand current debates in and around genre theory, phenomenology, affect studies, a version of historical materialism, postcolonial/Black studies, and museum studies.