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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The lyric selfie : mediating race and subjectivity in poetry from print to Web 2.0 Wee, Samuel Caleb


This dissertation theorises the contemporary Anglophone lyric alongside developments in media history (with a specific focus on print’s relationship to the Internet from Web 1.0 to 2.0), and asks how this juxtaposition addresses questions of subjectivity as racialised. Analysing poems by canonical, avant-garde, and diasporic poets of colour, I argue that the Internet, often framed as a force enacting a radical break in history, in fact recapitulates liberal humanist tenets and the racial order of colonial modernity as codified through print capitalist conditions. Over the course of five chapters, I examine how posthumanist rhetoric occludes the Internet’s continuities and liberal humanism. In Chapter 1, I argue that avant-garde poets who viewed the early Internet as a resource for pure dematerialized language in fact recapitulate a Eurocentric installation of whiteness as the invisible, transcendent, and universal master-subject. I propose in Chapter 2 that such rhetoric hinges upon a notion of metaphysical abstraction termed virtuality which must be understood as emerging from print conditions, when the legal-economic necessities of print capitalism transformed embodied writers in pre-modern Anglophone culture into abstract author functions, giving rise to the post-Romantic lyric’s vaunted universality through the printed poem’s hallucinatory orality. Subsequently, I identify in Chapter 3 how such purported transcendent universality as derived from print culture in fact created the possibility of racist virtualities which constructed the global racial hierarchy of colonial modernity, and investigate how such racist virtualities imbricate the formal operations of lyric poetry for white and racialised writers in different ways. In Chapters 4 and 5, I argue that social media in Web 2.0 catalyses a categorical confusion between the material and virtual realms through mobile computing, digital photography, and geopositioning functions that connect the offline and online positionalities of Internet users, and suggest that these changes could be encapsulated as social media’s remediation of the post-confessional lyric. While such irruptions reify representations of race within neoliberal capitalism as commodifiable products, I argue that they also offer new forms of relationality that unsettle conservative notions of identity, model possibilities for diasporic affiliation outside of ethno-nationalist understandings, and socialise intersectional allyship as lyric intimacy.

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