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Post-Naturalist Fictions of Resilience: Resisting Political Economic Violence in Contemporary American Literature
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Post-Naturalist Fictions of Resilience theorizes a post-naturalist literary movement that illustrates various manifestations of slow violence perpetuated by neoliberalism, the political economic order that emerged in the broad wake of World War II and ascended into the early twenty-first century. Specifically, the project analyzes novels by Leslie Marmon Silko, Gerald Vizenor, Ana Castillo, Ruth Ozeki, Richard Powers, and Annie Proulx, and their exploration of, for example, fossil fuel and uranium extraction, toxic manufacturing, industrial agriculture, and all sorts of attendant ill effects. The project’s composite critical-theoretical approach combines ecotheory, political economy, and trauma theory, and takes resilience as a guiding concept which recurs in ecology, political economy, and psychology. In fact, the project is the first book-length exploration of the concept of resilience in literary fiction. It illustrates how post-naturalism, as a fictional counterpart to resilience discourse, extends literary naturalism, a creative response to Gilded Age capitalism and Social Darwinism, and exhibits a clear post-1960s, postnature ideology. As the project illustrates, this ideology reflects the ecological, social, political, and economic goals environmental and bioregional, civil rights, decolonial and anti-war, feminist, and anti-capitalist economic justice movements that emerged from the 1960s to the 2000s. The novels respond to a long history of land theft, genocide, oppression, exploitation, degradation, and other processes that undergird neoliberalism, a project of wealth and power accumulation that necessitates deregulation, privatization, corporate welfarism, state-sanctioned violence, and manufactured consent. As the fiction illustrates, this model marks a return to accumulation by dispossession and an intensification of coercive organization, regularization, and exploitation of resources, bodies, and populations. As a new iteration of Social Darwinism, neoliberalism marshals support with the rhetoric of freedom and liberty through personal responsibility, a Protestant work ethic, rugged individualism, and consumer choice. As such, it demands that individuals be resilient, and responsible for their own survival, despite evident asymmetrical violence and injustice fostered by the system. In a phrase, this fiction illustrates that the perverse resilience of neoliberalism threatens the positive resilience of humans and more-than-human ecologies. Ultimately, the dissertation posits that, as post-naturalism seems to suggest, the resilience paradigm has proven itself too limited as a means of theorizing the violent and disruptive realities of neoliberalism, especially insofar as the dominant resilience discourse has perpetuated and obscured those realities. Suggesting ways to surpass the limitations of the resilience paradigm, the fiction imagines new possibilities for collective resistance, communal organization, and ecological renewal. Post-naturalism challenges readers to imagine new conceptions of resistance and dignified flourishing in the face of neoliberalism’s violence.