Date of Submission

Spring 2017

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Literature; Political Studies

Project Advisor 1

Alex Benson

Project Advisor 2

Simon Gilhooley

Abstract/Artist's Statement

This project attempts to understand how Americans are able to imagine themselves as a political public in two revolutionary moments: just after the American Revolution, and in 1965, at the heart of the Civil Rights era. The public, which the Constitution labels “We, the people,” is explored first in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, which postulates the institutional conditions necessary for its readership, the first generation of Americans, to form a political public. The project then studies the “We,” of the Constitution’s preamble and considers how readers can interpret who is signified by that “We.” 1965 saw a cultural revolution in America which attempted to reformulate a conception of “the people,” an attempt institutionally reflected in the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to ensure that marginalized communities of black Americans were represented as part of the “We.” Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, published in 1965, offers an alternative narrative of one of America’s first federal institutions, the Post Office. This narrative destabilizes the people’s relationship to its institutions, opening up possibilities for rethinking the citizen’s place in, or outside, the public. Also published in 1965, The Autobiography of Malcolm X asserts an alternative history for black Americans, using that history to reposition the marginalized group at the center of American life. This project will explore these two moments of political imaginings and read how that “We” is formed, and possibly transformed, by a narrative of the history of America’s institutions.

Open Access Agreement

Open Access

Creative Commons License

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