The art of change: Experimental writing, cultural activism, and feminist social transformation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Edmunds


Experimental writing, Cultural activism, Feminist, Social transformation, Carole Maso, Gloria Anzaldua, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Anna Deavere Smith

Subject Categories

American Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


"The Art of Change: Experimental Writing, Cultural Activism, and Feminist Social Transformation," argues that particular experimental texts use innovative aesthetic practices to challenge how we participate in the collective work of meaning production. They also prompt viewers/readers to change how we engage in that process, allowing us to question our part in the everyday production of social inequalities and to reorient our meaning-making practices toward the feminist work of social justice.

Chapter one analyzes Carole Maso's experimental novel, The Art Lover , to examine how the novel performs the experience of meaning-making in crisis. Chapter two looks at Gloria Anzaldúa's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza and the cultural activism of the Border Art Workshop/ Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAW/TAF). Both works implicate readers in the production of contested histories of racial conflict and imperialism. This chapter focuses on the ways that these texts disrupt a series of aesthetic boundaries in order to reveal and contest the borders of social categories such as race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Chapter three continues this theme of shifting borders by grouping together discussions of ACT UP's activism around AIDS issues with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictée , an experimental novel about the contested racial and national borders of Korea on the one hand and Japan, France, and the United States on the other. This chapter contends that each text invites readers to identify with dominant imperialist, religious, national, and sexual narratives and then subverts that identification. My conclusion brings together these pedagogical components of innovative aesthetics through an examination of the feminist theatre of Anna Deavere Smith, who has developed theatrical performances out of the conflicting narratives of specific communities located in Los Angeles and Crown Heights and then performs those narratives back to the communities that created them. By pushing against boundaries of aesthetic form as well as social categories, the examples I discuss offer models of learning and intervention that can prove immensely useful to the feminist work of social transformation.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.