Drawing a distinction between culturally oriented and formally oriented geographical approaches to American literary studies, this essay frames Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) as engaging with the geographical form and spatial materiality of the vast archipelago that W. E. B. DuBois, in his description of the planetary color line, referred to as “the islands of the sea.” The insular spaces upon which the novel relies include Key West, Palm Beach, the Caribbean, Hellas, the Malay Archipelago, and others. Each of these spaces exerts parallax influence upon Their Eyes's creation of the horizon-space that Janie, the novel's protagonist, uses to animate her geographical search for the unpresentable. Attentiveness to the novel's varied reliances on insular and archipelagic forms helps make accessible Their Eyes's investments in critiquing and ironizing the geoformally oriented underpinnings of US sovereignty. Finally, the essay suggests that cultivating a new geographical formalism—in complement to literary studies that rely on cultural geography—lends pivotal modes of legibility to literary texts as well as to reading practices. These modes of legibility have specific implications for the notion of diaspora as well as for the intense critical readings and rereadings Their Eyes has received during recent decades.

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