Modern and contemporary African American writers employ science fiction in order to recast ideas on past, present, and future black culture. This dissertation examines Afrofuturism’s cultural aesthetics, which appropriate devices from science fiction and fantasy in order to revise, interrogate, and re-examine historical events insufficiently treated by literary realism. The dissertation includes treatments of George Schuyler, Ishmael Reed, Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, Nalo Hopkinson, and Chicana/ofuturism.
The original contribution of this research is to highlight how imagination of a posthuman world has made it possible for African American writers to envision how racial power can be re-configured and re-negotiated. Focusing on shifting racial dynamics caught up in the swirl of technological changes, this research illuminates a complex process of literary production in which black culture and identity have been continuously re-interpreted.
In the post-war and post-Civil Rights Movement eras African American writers began reflecting on shifting racial dynamics in light of technological changes. This shift in which black experience became mechanized and digitized explains how technology became a source of new African American fiction. The relationships between humans and their external conditions appear in such futuristic themes as trans-human anamorphosis, cyberspace, and digital souls. These thematic devices, which explore humanity outside its phenotypic boundaries, provide African American writers with tools to demystify deterministic views of race. Afrofuturism has responded to the conceptual transformation of humanity with a race-specific scope, locating the presence of black culture in a high-tech world.
Techno-scientific progress has provided important resources in contemporary theory, yet these theoretical foci too seldom have been drawn into critical race discourses. This discrepancy is due to techno-scientific progress having served as a tool for the legitimation of scientific racism under global capitalism for centuries. Responding to this critical lacuna, the dissertation highlights an under-explored field in which African American literature responds to techno-culture’s involvement in contemporary discussions of race. Rather than repeat nominal assumptions of Eurocentric modernity and its racist hegemony, this dissertation theorizes how modern techno-culture’s outcomes—such as information science, genetic engineering, and computer science—shape minority lives, and how minority groups appropriate these outcomes to enact their own liberation.