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Marika Ceschia

LAHRI Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Clothworkers South Building, University of Leeds Campus
Arts, Humanities and Cultures
Leeds Arts and Humanities Research Institute

I hold a PhD in English literature from the University of Leeds, Leeds, UK. My research focuses on the interconnections between twentieth-century American literature and motherhood. Previously, I completed an MA in Postcolonial and World Literatures at Maynooth University, Ireland, and a BA in Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Udine, Italy. I have organized workshops and taught first- and second-year undergraduate seminars in Foundations of English Studies, African-American Narrative, and Race, Writing, and Decolonization. I have presented papers at the British Association of American Studies, Scottish Association of American Studies, and Irish Association of American Studies Annual Conferences, and at the UCL Center for the Study of the Americas. My research interests include postcolonial theory and literature; environmental and medical humanities; African-American, Native American, and Chicano literature; gender and queer studies; Black British literature; and critical race theory.

My thesis has argued that African-American women’s literary narratives of the 1970s and 1980s seek to reimagine the processes through which black subjectivities are constructed. They do this through what I have termed, following Hortense Spillers, a maternal grammar that rewrites the ancestral practices enslaved women deployed. These texts thus disrupt a brutal American grammar of description based upon a hierarchical taxonomy of the human and a concomitant erasure of the maternal that, as Spillers has shown, originated during slavery. Unveiling the disturbing similarities between antebellum and neoliberal America, these narratives allow for alternative, relational modes of subjectivity, reimagined in processual terms and based upon a return to, rather than a break from, the maternal. In so doing, they strive to counteract the racial violence engendered by the neoliberal mode of reason and its concomitant teleological and hierarchical ordering of being.

Placing Sylvia Wynter and Saidiya Hartman in the tradition inaugurated by Spillers, I have situated my discussion of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills, Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow, Audre Lorde’s Zami, and Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters alongside current debates about the ontology of the human. If the human has been made and unmade throughout history to serve various economic ends, then, as Wynter contends, being human is a praxis, not an immutable ontological category or essence but a process that is ongoing. Uncovering the maternal displacement that has helped to convert some human beings into property, these works locate in the restoration of an archive of maternal praxis a potential to reverse this process, changing the terms that dictate how the human is performed. They thus suggest that what needs to be left behind is not the human as such but the processes of maternal ousting that brought about its current manifestation as a gendered and racialized ordering of being.

I am currently working on an academic monograph based on my PhD and entitled Otherworldly Mothering, which examines African-American women’s writing of the 1970s and 1980s, analysing their portrayals of maternal praxis against a context of neoliberal forms of racial terror. I am also writing an article on Toni Cade Bambara’s work, and another one on representations of the ghetto in African-American literature. I am also developing a new project that, based on the findings of my PhD research and in dialogue with black feminists’ writings, aims at developing an interdisciplinary research methodology to unveil the mechanisms by which the maternal erasures of the colonial archive work to uphold its racial and ecological violence.