Unworlded Empires: Homotopic Narration and the Modernist Racial Unconscious

Doctoral Dissertation


My dissertation explores the connection between minority melancholia, mathematical form, and modernist fiction via the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger, the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan and Melanie Klein, and the non-Euclidean mathematics of the twentieth century. Through a special study of the common concerns about the historical and personal development of human worlding across these thinkers’ philosophies of human being, my project introduces the mathematically-borrowed concept of homotopia, or the change in valence that an entity accrues as it moves from one symbolic domain to another, as a formal heuristic within modernist texts. I investigate homotopia as a structuring trope for re-imaginings of the existentially and culturally contingent, ultimately racialized, and thereby ever formally progressive, nature of human being-in-the-world amidst the decline of European imperialism in the interwar period in Germany, Britain, and Ireland in the (inter)national imaginaries of the canonical modernist fiction of Thomas Mann, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce. My project especially re-examines the epistemologically developmental, Bildungsroman-like aspects of these narratives’ melancholic stagings of new modernist challenges to the universalized bourgeois transition from childhood worlding to adult epistemologies in an era of deep philosophical interrogation into the existential and scientific nature of human being. I argue that modernist form opens a melancholically dynamic space in which to re-investigate the factical aspects of human being. Modernist treatments of the biological and contingent aspects of minorized and racialized existence, exoticized into subaltern categories of social and political affect and exclusion, transform these qualities into formally, relationally, and aesthetically malleable and abstracted, queered categorizations of a new universal, multiply existential approach to human being. Through the tropes of the gaze, skin, non-Euclidean planes, inassimilable relations of parts to wholes, and fractal temporality, my project uncovers a modernist narratological poetics of homotopic changes to traditional subject-object relations that re-imagines a plurality of potential viewpoints through which narratives of human development can be refracted into an endless array of symbolic, scientific, and mathematical form. In ultimately rendering these imaginary aspects as so many uncannily homotopic, mathematically abstractable, and at the same time potentially mutually democratizing forms of human being-in-the-world, these modernists’ texts resist the formal homogeneities of imperialist logic in favor of a provisionally pluralist approach to form. Thus, canonical modernist fiction plays with both the liberating and also uncanny philosophical antinomies of oneness and multiplicity still embedded in the progressive hopes, political failures, and ongoing modern(ist) horizons of multicultural pluralism in our contemporary era today.


Attribute NameValues
Author Jessica K. Kim
Contributor Barry McCrea, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline English
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
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Defense Date
  • 2021-11-23

Submission Date 2021-12-09
  • modernist fiction

  • topology

  • race

  • pluralism

  • non-Euclidean mathematics

  • existential philosophy

  • psychoanalysis

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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