Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 126 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Kevin Bell

Committee Members

Tom Cohen, Charles Shepherdson


American Literature, Blackness, Deconstruction, Ellison, Faulkner, Morrison, Black people, Black people in literature

Subject Categories

American Studies | Reading and Language | Theory and Criticism


The Blackness of Black (W)holes analyzes Toni Morrison's Sula, William Faulkner's Sanctuary, and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man as against establishing the illusion of a coherent, recognizable self through relational identities and subservience to denotative language and categories of identity. These novel’s feature characters packing knives, I claim, because they advocate for what I term stylistic self–extrication: a rupture with prevailing forms of identity and cliché ways of speaking through rhythmic, sonorous, experimental language use. Characters who succeed at the task, I argue, are associated with a blackness in excess of racial markings, because they become unclassifiable as a result. In addition to tracking such figures, my dissertation also examines blackness’ relation to more subtle critiques of identity and designation in these texts: for example, blackness in the form of what I refer to as Faulkner's non–reflective realism and Invisible Man's implicit, unrecordable laughter, both of which mock languages’ inability to totalize or classify its intended object. Thus, while The Blackness of Black (W)holes explores an excessive blackness as it relates to stylistic self–extrication, it also investigates the blackness or non–reflectiveness of language, and this exploration of blackness as not only a racial marker, stigmatized cultural construction, or the product of racialization highlights the limitations of many important race–based literary studies focused too narrowly on identity. For in the end I show that the writing of Faulkner's Sanctuary—with its thematization of black holes and collapsation of binary opposites into single, unreadable shadows—not only approximates blackness or performs the idea of a black (w)hole, but also presents a theory of a literary black (w)hole relevant to Invisible Man, Sula, and other texts. Thus, my dissertation proposes that these novels can be thought of as forming a new and different literary tradition.