English Ph.D. Dissertations


Being and Otherness: Conceptualizing Embodiment in Africana Existentialist Discourse (The Bluest Eye, The Fire Next Time, and Black Skin, White Masks)

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing)

First Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Nermis Mieses (Other)

Third Advisor

Raymond A. Craig (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)


This dissertation explores the writings of three authors associated with the philosophical and literary approach known as Africana existentialism (AE). There are two main exigencies which this study addresses: 1) What insights can rhetoric and writing scholars obtain from analyzing the work(s) of Africana existentialism regarding the concept of embodiment? 2) How might these insights impact our conceptual understanding of embodied practice and our ability to teach in a diverse classroom setting? Through a hermeneutic analysis of three AE works, The Bluest Eye, The Fire Next Time, and Black Skin, White Masks, three key features of black embodiment were found. The three key features of black embodiment are as follows: 1) There is a context in which blackness exists as opposition or in contrast to the theory and glorification of whiteness. 2) Cultural products, narratives, and symbols put forth by Western mass culture can negatively impact many people who exist in/as black bodies. These products, symbols, and narratives can have an onerous psychological impact on black people. 3) There is an importance and irreducibility to black experiential facticity—a phenomenological knowledge gained from being in the world as a black body—and claims about experiential facticity go beyond typical academic arguments and discussions about the constructed nature of blackness. This emphasis on experiential facticity uncovers issues of divergent epistemologies and ideologies, and such divergences may spring from cultural positionality. My research sets forth three possible paths which might alleviate some of the problems that arise from divergent epistemologies and ideologies. First, it is extremely important for teachers to check their own ideological blind spots for beliefs and approaches which may stifle views which sound different than their own. Next, teachers should use rhetorical listening in order to improve cross-cultural communication. Lastly, teachers can develop and use heuristic practices or theories of acquisition which will let people apply concepts to their own personal, situated experience.