Dissertation Abstracts

Deborah Al-Najjar
Around 199l: Performing Iraq and Militarized Masculinities
“Around 199l: Performing Iraq and Militarized Masculinities” stares at artists (performers, novelists, filmmakers) who imagine militarized masculine subjects within a racial triangulation framework. I dissect that paradigm by demonstrating how this triangulation is a national trauma; it functions as sexual/racial terror. My project understands the current 2003-2010 ongoing war against Iraq by looking backward to the 1991 Gulf War, then further back to the pre Baathist Coup of the 1950s and U.S. institutional and structural operations (covert and overt). By examining what some academics, artists, and activists might perceive as benign institutions (the Peace Corps, Foreign Service, & the academy), the reader, citizen, activist, or artist would find herself as a relational, imbricated, and responsible, active participant in these institutions. The artists in this dissertation put themselves and us in positions of vulnerability and culpability. My dissertation maps onto Claire Jeane Kim’s “Racial Triangulation” a paradigm shift. If Arabs are Asians (Model Minorities and perpetual foreigners) in her formulation of Asian, Black, White, how does this formation work for textual readings? Racial triangulation as sexual/racial trauma operates through white militarized masculine subjectivity and is a sexualized/gendered violence. I couple the terms racial triangulation and militarized masculinities in order to get at the nexus that is a heterosexualized violence of empire’s formation. These artists are not collaborators with the state but art, especially art that speaks against the grain, will collide and collude with those structures. M y theoretical engagements and stakes in various fields of studies triangulate one another: African American, Arab American, Asian American studies. These fields of knowledge intersect and crosscut queer/feminist theory as I meditate on empire, occupation, and knowledge production in the academic landscape, the other “cultural imaginary” of this dissertation. My primary archive consists of art that I read as racial engagements with triangulation: performance artists Timz, Narcicyst, Paul Mooney, and Tania Hammidi; Alan Ball’s cinematic rendition of Alica Erian’s novel Towelhead (2007); Sam Greenlee’s novel Baghdad Blues (1976); Sinan Antoon’s novella I’Jaam (2007); Rajiv Joseph’s play The Bengali Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo (2010); Edward Zwick’s film The Seige (1998).
Sophia Azeb
Ceci (n')est (pas) une arabe: Cultural Explorations of Blackness in the North African Diaspora, 1952-1979
Arabic-speaking North Africans have generally been considered to be racially and culturally distinct from sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants, both by imperial powers and North Africans themselves. However, this dissertation argues that transnational discourses of blackness have always included Arabic speakers, whose cultural production in the decolonial Cold War era utilized blackness as a language through which to make legible their respective anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles to African Americans and other African Diasporic peoples in Algeria, Egypt, France, and Britain. My project assembles an Afro-Arab cultural archive ranging from African American narratives of Algerians in 1950s Paris to the transnational jazz scene emergent in 1970s Egypt in order to demonstrate that Egyptians and Algerians have historically located themselves and been located by others in the African Diaspora within transnational and multilingual expressions of blackness. Engaging such alternate theorizations of blackness within this shared cultural production, I utilize Ethnic Studies, Post-colonial Studies and Cultural Studies methods and analytics of race and identity formation in order to examine how blackness is articulated and defined by diasporic Algerians, Egyptians, and African Americans between 1952, the year of the Officer’s Coup in Egypt, and 1979, the beginning of the U.S.S.R.’s collapse.
Crystal Baik
Unsettling Images that Bind: The Korean Militarized Diaspora (1905-1965), Critical Sensing, & the Decolonial Archive
My dissertation, entitled “Unsettling Images that Bind: The Korean Militarized Diaspora (1905-1965), Critical Sensing, & the Decolonial Archive,” interrogates the historical narratives and memories attached to the militarized making of the Korean diaspora across Asia and the Pacific (1905-1965). By examining an archive of cultural formations— ranging from early twentieth century footage of Korean anti-colonial protests to contemporary visual works by Korean transnational adoptees— I argue that visual objects are not merely aesthetic works, but political and epistemological mechanisms that unsettle discourses of American liberation and minjok, or Korean ethno-centric nationalism. Drawing upon theories of phenomenology and embodiment, cultural studies, and film studies, my interdisciplinary analysis offers the framework of critical sensing, which challenges the rigid boundary between the visible and invisible. Specifically, critical sensing describes the processes in which visual objects encounter and remediate primary sources of evidence, such as U.S. and South Korean military images, adoption papers, and state-produced films. While remediation gestures toward the preservation of the original, I argue that this process also alludes to obscured memories, social traces, and disappeared bodies excluded from dominant visual frames. Therefore, my dissertation does not only index the militarized making of a Korean diaspora, but offers a decolonized historiography capable of “sensing” memories and subjectivities deemed disposable to the intertwined projects of South Korean accelerated development, U.S. liberation, and Korean ethno-centric nationalism.
Umayyah Cable
Cinematic Activism: Palestinian Cultural Politics in the United States
This dissertation examines how and why Palestinian cinema—through films and film festivals—has emerged as a site around which Palestinians in the US organize their social justice activism and assert their diasporic identification with Palestine. I argue that the Palestinian-American community organizes itself around Palestine-themed film festivals as both a process of national identification and a strategy towards a socially just representational praxis, or what I theorize as “cinematic activism.” Through a combination of ethnographic research and media analysis, this dissertation takes the controversy around—and successes of—Palestinian film screenings in the Boston area as a site through which to understand the identitarian, pedagogical, and political work of Palestinian cinema in the United States.
Jih-Fei Cheng
“Queer Visibilities: Race, Gender, and Viral Ways of Seeing”

“Queer Visibilities: Race, Gender, and Viral Ways of Seeing” examines how the term “virus” came to designate an object of scientific inquiry and a mode of social organization. Drawing upon decolonial theory and queer of color critique, Cheng works backwards in time to analyze the visual and conceptual movements of the term across media platforms. Cheng examines web campaigns, documentary films, news, performances, scientific literatures, and historical accounts that illuminate HIV/AIDS in relation to the circulation of racial and gender significations that historically underpin discourses of disease. The dissertation demonstrates how virus representations generate a visual grammar by which queer subjects of U.S.-European empire forge kinships and build alliances across geographical scale and historical eras. By exploring the visual politics of viruses, Cheng bridges literatures in the humanities and sciences to propose a critical framework for understanding the development of discourses about viruses over time. “Queer Visibilities” ultimately argues that AIDS politics and queer theory can be used to identify a connection between the scientific narrative about the discovery of the first virus and concerns about race-mixing at the turn of the twentieth century.
Jennifer Declue
Specters of Miscegenation: Blood, the Law, and the Reproduction of Blackness
Jennifer’s dissertation "Specters of Miscegenation: Blood, the Law, and the Reproduction of Blackness" examines the manner in which antebellum anti-miscegenation laws surface in postbellum legislation and ideologies of blackness and whiteness by tuning in to the specter of black women’s reproduction in the making of the racialized U.S. body. By contextualizing literary and visual cultural texts that contend with anti-miscegenation violence, “mulatto” children’s rights of inheritance, interracial couple’s right to marry, and domestic spaces that merge black and white bodies with key legal cases and judicial history, this project establishes that a culture of miscegenation which both depends upon and erases black women’s reproductive bodies is central to the making of the U.S. national body. "Specters of Miscegenation" analyzes visual and literary representations of state and national legislative and judicial responses to the problematics of defining blackness, prohibiting miscegenation, and securing or refusing rights of black citizens during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era. This project hones in on the gray areas - the ambiguities of race, family, and community - that anti-miscegenation legislation and Jim Crow laws attempt to disentangle by defining epistemologies of blackness through symbolics of blood. I examine the shadow system of sexualized racial violence that produced “mulatto” children, allowed white vigilantism, and overlooked extralegal interracial couplings, which engender what I describe as a culture of miscegenation through laws, custom, and culture. The visual and literary texts examined in this project illustrate how generations of sexual violence, subsequent familial ties, and racially indistinct collectivities blur putatively immiscible bodies that often escapes dominant narratives of race within the U.S. "Specters of Miscegenation" examines the complex of secrecy, shame, and violence imposed upon the figure of the mulatto who threatens white supremacy’s claim to blood purity in the film "Pinky" (1949, the novel "Clotel" (1853) and Kara Walker’s "Bureau of Refugees" series (2008. This project also examines miscegenation by discussing collectivities of black and white people that together attain freedom by using the group to defy systemic racial and gendered violence in Sherley Anne Williams's novel "Dessa Rose"(1986) and Alfonso Cuaron's film "Children of Men"(2006). "Specters of Miscegenation" grounds analyses of literary and visual texts, which grapple with miscegenation and racial purity, by discussing the categorical obfuscation of black women’s reproduction in significant legal cases that shape ideologies of American blackness and whiteness, in order to support the contention that black women’s reproductive bodies haunt key civil rights decisions, the U.S. cultural imaginary of the antebellum and Jim Crow south, and the contradictory constitution of our supposed racially distinct national body.
  • Department of American Studies & Ethnicity
  • University of Southern California
  • 3620 South Vermont Avenue
  • Kaprielian Hall 462
  • Los Angeles, California 90089-2534