Well, I figured it was about time I announced this on my blog (though now that I’ve added the Twitter widget to this site anyone could also have seen it there). On Friday, April 4, 2014, I successfully defended the dissertation. Finally. By Wednesday it will be deposited and I will officially have the rank of Ph.D.
I thought about doing some grandiose write-up about my experiences in this Ph.D. program, and the reasons why I did it, and the reasons why it turned out the way it did. But then I remembered that I tend to avoid the graduate school advice conversations because I admit my reasons were not altogether financially and professionally sound or responsible. And probably that’s because I don’t think that everything we do in life must be subjected to a cynical cost-benefit analysis. And then I end up sounding like some kind of naive idealist, and who the hell needs those in today’s corporate education system?
So suffice to say, it is done, and I’m glad it is done. For now my plans are to continue working on my topic and adding more content to this blog. I am also working towards building a book on this subject, and I know that’s going to take a lot of time and effort over the next few months.
In the meantime, here’s the abstract:
The Over-Education of the Negro: Academic Novels, Higher Education and the Black Intellectual
A. Lavelle Porter
Advisor: Robert Reid-Pharr
This dissertation focuses on the academic novel – a literary genre which fictionalizes the lives of students and professors in institutions of higher education. In particular this project focuses on academic novels written by black writers and which address issues in black higher education. This dissertation has two concurrent objectives: 1) to examine the academic novel as a particular genre of literature, and to highlight some specific novels on black American identity within this genre, and 2) to illustrate the pedagogical value of academic fiction. Through the ancient practice of storytelling, academic novels link the travails of the individual student or professor to a bigger story about the history and origin and purpose of colleges and universities. The “Introduction” provides a basic overview of the academic novel, the black academic novel, and an analysis of the history of black higher education through discourses of over-education. Chapter One, “Toward a Theory of the Black Academic Novel,” provides a literature review of criticism on academic fiction and makes connections with black literary criticism in order to create a framework for reading black academic novels. This chapter also includes a historical survey of black academic fiction leading up to the three novels in the following chapters, which were written after the 1980s, and which are framed by discussions of culture wars and capitalism. Chapter Two, “Culture Warriors,” is an examination of Ishmael Reed’s Japanese by Spring (1993) in the context of the “culture wars” and the development of multiculturalism in higher education. Chapter Three, “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong,” examines Percival Everett’s Erasure (2001) and the politics of authenticity in black literary and cultural production. Chapter Four, “Homo Academicus,” is an interpretation of Samuel R. Delany’s The Mad Man (1994:2002) as an academic novel, showing how the novel articulates a queer black intellectual practice as a challenge to discourses of respectability, particularly during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The “Conclusion” speculates on the future, and possible obsolescence, of the novel (including the black academic novel) as a literary form, and the role of black intellectuals in the digital humanities.