Date of Award

May 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Kumkum Sangari

Committee Members

Gregory Jay, Michael Wilson, Anna Mansson McGinty


In my dissertation I focus on survivance, a concept promoted by Gerald Vizenor in his 1999 book Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance to contend that presence, active resistance, and the power of narratives surpass genocidal violence and assimilation of Native Americans. With an emphasis on contemporary transnational fiction, I argue that Vizenor’s concept can be extended beyond its initial frame of reference. To this day, many regions of the world are afflicted by both old and contemporary mechanisms of war, colonialism, patriarchy and global capitalism. Our understanding of how scholars, writers, and artists in different locales are engaged against structural violence and the destruction of their economy and habitat can be furthered through the lens of survivance. Inspired by Vizenor, I ask other questions as well about how the themes and practices of survivance are informed by the (un)making of borders. How does survivance account for possible reconfigurations of temporalities and spatialities? How does the gendering of persons and places elicit different forms of survivance? Exploring the concept of survivance within a transnational framework, I argue that scholarship on transnational literature can be expanded by using survivance as an analytic tool, for it will let us articulate Vizenor’s “active sense of presence” in multiple ways. I believe that survivance can transcend its original literary context and speak to marginalized groups who seek to internalize a positive sense of agency.

I explore Vizenor’s concept of survivance as a “sense of presence in remembrance,” in post-colonial and historical narratives, particularly Deborah Miranda’s Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, which focuses on the stories of California Indians during the Missionization Project and Assia Djebar’s Fantasia: An Algerian Cavalcade, which is centered on the French colonization of Algeria. My work addresses the ways in which a re-writing of history – through a multimodal form of survivance in memorialization – allows Miranda and Djebar to liberate the voices trapped in the official archives and to reconstruct the stories that have been erased from the dominant U.S. American memory culture and the French collective consciousness respectively. I also examine how Vizenor’s concepts of the “simulations of survivance” can counteract the “simulations of dominance” in the context of transnational migration. I discuss how migrants and refuges can unmake borders and create a new sense of presence through their right to opacity and an “imaginative recreation of reality” in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Laila Lalami’s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Furthermore, my work explores what Vizenor calls “tropisms of survivance.” Inspired by Nathalie Sarraute’s imagistic concept of literary tropisms, Vizenor expands the creative energy of survivance into metaphors of natural motion, cues of presence, and gestures of subtle ironies. Specifically, I demonstrate how literary tropisms of survivance can play a role in transfiguring the devastation of wars, particularly World War I in Gerald Vizenor’s Blue Ravens and the Lebanese Civil War in Hoda Barakat’s The Tiller of Waters. Both authors choose war as their subject matter and seem to highlight the existential reality of chance in wartime, as well as its implications for human conduct and creativity. Additionally, in light of the fact that trickster stories are common in many oral traditions, in my dissertation I show that the trickster figure in Native American literature can be connected to the manipulative and astute disposition of the character of Scheherazade, the female heroine and storyteller in The Arabian Nights. I look into the use of humor, wit, and verbal play in trickster stories as strategies of survivance in Hanan Al-Shaykh’s retelling in One Thousand and One Nights and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water. I believe that Al-Shaykh’s and King’s stories of survivance can help create unlimited possibilities of mutability, creativity, and renewal in defiance of closure.