W. Oliver Baker
American Literary Studies
Oliver's research focuses on the intersecting histories of settler colonialism, racial capitalism, white supremacy, and class in American literature and culture. In particular, his dissertation examines how the early literary fictions of Native, Mexican, and African American writers from 1848-1940 represent economic dispossession from the other side of colonial difference, from the standpoint of what Franz Fanon called the "zone of nonbeing," the position of social death and structural exclusion in modern liberal political economy and civil society. It argues that because the early literary fictions of colonized and racialized groups are written from the other side of colonial difference, their narrative and aesthetic forms become fractured, uneven, and irregular. This formal unevenness, the dissertation contends, embodies and thus makes explicit the irreconcilable asymmetries of power of US white settler society that the major works of realism, naturalism, and modernism actively conceal and disavow.
In this way, his dissertation demonstrates how Native, Mexican, and African American writers of this period serve as crucial yet unacknowledged narrators of US economic history precisely because their literary works lay bare what dominant US narratives obscure, namely the structural violence of settler colonialism and white supremacy that serve as the pedestals of US political economy and liberal democracy. The significance of his dissertation, then, is that it not only explains how settler colonialism and racial capitalism shape the literary and cultural forms of Native, Mexican, and African American writers; it also foregrounds and centers the often ignored role colonized and racialized peoples play as actors in the histories of representing and resisting structures of dispossession, exploitation, and oppression in the United States.
Drawing on his research and scholarship, Oliver teaches rhetoric and writing courses that explore themes of racial, gender, and class inequality, radical democracy, and the role of historical and cultural criticism in movements for justice and equality. He has also taught courses in early and nineteenth century American literature and culture, World literature, and Chicanx literature. His published work can be found in Mediations, Public: Art, Culture, Ideas, and Reviews in Cultural Theory.