Scholars over the last two decades or so have become increasingly interested in methods of interpreting history, society, and literature that do not rely on nationalistic paradigms. One vein of the transnational analytic trend is interested not only in the multiplicity of cultural geographies but also in the materiality of geography. Such critical work is extremely helpful in challenging myopic nationalist readings; yet the materiality of geography used as a theoretical lens has even greater potential. Using geographical formations as a basis for literary analysis can yield a theoretical base that has nothing to do with the borders of nations (whether it be one nation or many nations) and everything to do with the borders of the planet, a material planet indifferent to national affiliation. Instead of a transnational globe, we inhabit an a-national earth. In order for material geography to be used more fully for a-national readings as opposed to transnational critique, it is essential that the physical aspects of said geography not be subsumed in metaphorical applications. Geographer David Harvey has developed ideas about the different conceptions of space and time, and it is this research that can grant material geography a more precise and accurate definition in literary studies, and thus ensure that issues of materiality are not sidelined by metaphorical considerations. Wallace Thurman's novel The Blacker the Berry, when read through a lens of material geography that is focused with Harvey's space and time conceptions, suggests a method of identity formation complicated by the earth's physical insensibility to humankind (I focus specifically on mountains). Other texts of the New Negro era (namely the work of leading lights such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes) also show evidence of entertaining the planet's a-national characteristics. Members of both the old and new guard of the New Negro era worked to construct an alternative to the "Sambo" image of the Old Negro (Gates 130; van Notten 131-33), even though their views on what this image should be were radically different. While New Negro era writers' efforts to forge a new identity for the black person were explicitly focused on race and its connection to the United States, the mountain trope as used in their texts introduces an a-national perspective that challenges not only the identity building being practiced by New Negro era writers but also current uses of transnationalism which too often result in nationalism re-visited. By using the materiality of mountains in The Blacker the Berry to introduce a-nationalism, I propose that the novel does not simply explore identity (a point made by several other scholars) but also challenges identity-building practices.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Burns, Stephanie Jean, "Material Geography, Mountains, and A-Nationalism in Thurman's The Blacker the Berry" (2013). Theses and Dissertations. 3816.
nationalism, transnationalism, New Negro era, Wallace Thurman, material geography