A critical introduction to Ashes Come With, a novel and Ashes Come With, or Walter Benjamin is Stuck in a Tuna Can, a novel

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University of New Brunswick


This research-based dissertation comprises a novel, Ashes Come With, and its critical introduction. The novel is inspired by the exile of German-Jewish literary philosopher Walter Benjamin (1933-1940) and that of his imagined queer, HIV+ great-great-grandson, Pear, in the 2000s. The critical introduction shares some of my lived experiences informing the novel and its composition, and it demonstrates how the meanings applied to my life and body for purposes of power (the biopolitical) fuel the novel’s composition and narrative. One principal question motivates this work: How might biopolitical forces, so significant in my lived experience, activate characterological decisions and narrative advancement? The novel activates the connections between the circumstances of Benjamin’s actual exile (displacement, poverty, antisemitism) and key Benjaminian insights vital to contemporary critical discourse (material dialectics, constellation, montage). In spite of Benjamin’s relatively well-documented life, the novel finds its story within the gaps of the historical record. Walter’s 1930s fight to survive, do his work, and get that work out of France is embedded in and informs Pear’s struggle to get out of the U.S. eighty years later. As sentient ash in the 2000s, Walter’s ontological cohesion depends upon the care and attention he brings to Pear. Similarly, Pear “reaches out” to Walter in his imagination as he faces bewildering obstacles. The existential stakes faced by the characters in one storyline ignite story advancement in the other despite temporal divides. The critical introduction challenges its readers to queer the biopolitical constitutive ingredients of failure as it operates in the characters’ lives. Throughout the dissertation, these “ingredients” become sites of story generation and critique. Research for the novel included on-site research visits, close study of historical testimony, ephemera, and Benjamin’s oeuvre while attending to its omissions, such as the immediate circumstances from which several Benjamininan principles emerge. The dissertation demonstrates that the deployment of the biopolitical rooted in characterological, historical, and geo-political collapses of intention opens opportunities for creative or critical engagement.