Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Dante's Transmutation of Classical Friendship

    Author:
    Filippa Modesto
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Paul Oppenheimer
    Abstract:

  • Caught in the Crossfire: A Critical English Translation of the New York City Prison Letters of St. John de Crèvecoeur

    Author:
    Drew Moore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    André Aciman
    Abstract:

    The present study is a critical edition and translation into English of the New York City prison letters of St. John de Crèvecoeur. The letters were first published in French in the 1784 and 1787 editions of Lettres d'un cultivateur américain. Until now, these five autobiographical stories of the author's 1779 incarceration by the British during the American Revolution have been unavailable to English readers. Consisting of a critical introduction, annotated translation, photographs, illustrations, and an appendix, this dissertation fuses the literary with the historical. St. John de Crèvecoeur's suspenseful, impassioned account of the most harrowing experience in his life is amplified by historical research that fleshes out wartime events and the actual lives of his fellow sufferers in the notorious Provost Gaol. The critical introduction identifies themes that course through the prison stories, and indeed much of St. John de Crèvecoeur's work as a whole: the horrors and contingencies of civil war, along with the perils of neutrality and artificiality of allegiances. The introduction then examines the generic properties of the prison letters: they share qualities of the epistolary, sentimental, and captivity narrative. Finally, the stories are placed into historical context, followed by a discussion of the implications of this prison episode in the assessment of St. John de Crèvecoeur's life and work. The letters themselves begin with the "The Generous Daughter," a story of a man whose daughter's efforts to secure his release inspire wonder and admiration in all the inmates. "Anecdote of Sergeant B. A." anatomizes the movements, countenance and behavior of a man about to be executed. "The Ill-Fated Father" is the portrait of a defiant old man whose sons are wantonly murdered. "Circumstances" is principally the author's own story, recounting the torments he suffers, as well as the kindnesses bestowed on him, during his three-month confinement in the Provost. "Last Letter" recreates the suspenseful night on which the author discovers that he will finally be released from prison. Acts of benevolence that defy partisan expectations elicit his wonder as readily as acts of arbitrary vileness.

  • The Rise of the American Culture of Sensationalism: 1620-1860

    Author:
    Alexander Moudrov
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    Much has been written about the unprecedented proliferation of sensationalist literature in the nineteenth century but very little about its origins. Such an oversight leaves our sense of early American literary history incomplete and even distorted by some persistent misconceptions about the concept of sensationalism and its place in American culture. In this dissertation I devise methodical ways of approaching this subject and explain its significance in the formation of American literary conventions. My project expands the scope of recent scholarship on sensationalist literature by examining the two areas which have so far been neglected in American studies: the origins of the American tradition of sensationalism and its place in the transatlantic context. As I demonstrate, the spectacular rise of sensationalist literature in the nineteenth century was not a spontaneous development. It grew out of a long domestic tradition of sensationalist rhetoric that emerged in the colonial period--much earlier than what is commonly perceived as the first significant outbreak of literary sensationalism in the aftermath of the American Revolution. Furthermore, patterns of provocative rhetoric, which also emerged early in the colonial period, formed an enduring rhetorical tradition whose proponents relied on a set of recognizable conventions that made a notable impact on American literary history.

  • Religiously Based Morality in the Theatre of Alexander Ostrovsky

    Author:
    Olga Muratova
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Daniel Gerould
    Abstract:

    Abstract RELIGIOUSLY BASED MORALITY IN THE THEATRE OF OSTROVSKY by Olga Muratova Adviser: Professor Daniel C. Gerould The dissertation offers a new way of interpreting Alexander Ostrovsky's dramas. The Ostrovsky scholarship is systematic, thorough, and well documented, but it may overlook a particular aspect of the playwright's work, that of Christian, and more specifically Russian Orthodox, morality. The dissertation correlates facts of Ostrovsky's biography (some of which were not publicized during the Soviet era), textual content of his dramas, and biblical conceptual language in them with the historical and cultural context of nineteenth-century Russia, revealing religiously based didacticism in the playwright's oeuvre. A coherent explanation of the factors (historical, ethnological, theological, epistemological, and, at least partially, ontological) that shaped Ostrovsky's life views and consequently his writing is offered as a key element of the argument presented. The writer's four metanarratives (guilt vs. shame; sin; money; theatre), which are being singled out as dominant in his dramas, are looked at from the standpoint of his understanding and interpretation of Christian doctrines. Previous research traditionally labeled a number of Ostrovsky's plays atypical for his writing style, thus creating an exclusive approach to the interpretation of the body of his work. However, if Ostrovsky is regarded as a didactic author who embodied within his plays certain attitudes about morality, which were the outgrowths of religion-influenced ethical positions of his time, exclusions become unnecessary and every drama conforms to a unifying pattern. By shedding more light on Ostrovsky's work and grounding it in Russian Orthodoxy, the dissertation demonstrates that while the playwright should be considered a realist in form, the content of his plays renders them moral fables, rooted in the Bible and the teachings of the Russian national church.

  • Blood: A Victorian Idea in the Flesh

    Author:
    Raluca Musat
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Felicia Bonaparte
    Abstract:

    Abstract BLOOD: A VICTORIAN IDEA IN THE FLESH by Raluca Musat Adviser: Professor Felicia Bonaparte Based on a large body of primary works in science, philosophy, political economy and literature, this study argues that in the nineteenth century novel the meaning of "blood" changes from genealogy, as employed in the service of the aristocracy, to capacity for generosity and affection, conceived as able to counteract the godless secularism and money worship haunting the industrialized England of the time. "Good blood" begins to mean possessing these qualities more relevant to the needs of the time. Nevertheless, the old associations with noble genealogy continue to exercise influence imaginatively, through the connection with ancestors reputed to have been exceptional in some way, and in some respects practically, through the wealth and political clout still left the aristocracy. This inherent power is not to be wasted but repurposed by novelists, in an effort to reconcile the two meanings of the term and put the fable of blood behind the qualities required of true leaders. The study establishes the versatility of the word, which denotes, more than just social standing, physiological as well as moral and affective predispositions. This wide adaptability of meaning stems from the duality of blood, its physical concreteness coupled with unusual powers of suggestiveness. In showing that these can be manipulated to give authority to self-serving ideas, novelists dismantle the old prejudices in favor of hereditary titles and coats-of-arms. However, they continue to make use of the metaphoric potential intrinsic to the idea of blood to suggest that all people are bound in a fellowship of mankind and that those who are strong have a duty to help the weak. This spirit of altruism is apt to create a new set of relationships benefitting from associations with blood only in the derivative sense of parental care, brotherly love, and affinities of the heart. The goal is to reconstruct British society on the organic model of a great family, with an aristocracy of talent, and possibly even of birth, at its head, but functioning in a benevolently paternal way. This is not the end of the aristocracy but, rather, an opportunity to justify its privileges anew.

  • The Stability of Laughter, On the Comic Aesthetic in Modernist Literature

    Author:
    James Nikopoulos
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    This dissertation looks at European Modernism in light of one of its more neglected priorities: its rethinking of the nature of comedy and humor. The use of comic elements in the work of Luigi Pirandello, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Italo Svevo, and Samuel Beckett betrays a radical rethinking of the meaning of laughter and humor. As such, the theoretical predecessor to the Modernist use of the comic is Baudelaire, whose essay, "Sur l'essence du rire," details a complete upending of traditional ideas of laughter. No longer merely the representative phenomenon of "happiness" and "joy," laughter becomes the signpost par excellence of modern notions of ambiguity and instability which implicates the laugher as much as the laughed-at. Since Baudelaire's essay also reads laughter as a marker of character, it anticipates the Modernist use of one's sense of humor as a way of dramatizing one's subjectivity. What makes one laugh at nine years old is not always what makes him laugh at twenty-nine, the same way a Chinese man may not find the same thing funny as a man from Argentina. When a character laughs at something, an unconscious mode of communication is on display, one that dramatizes that character's specific subjectivity at the moment of the laughter. This is what Joyce works off of when he contrasts Bloom's playful sense of humor with the more violent mockery of his fellow Dubliners in Ulysses. This is about forging an emotional link or a profound disconnect between the psyches of individuals that is recognized in purely dramatic fashion. The exclusivity of the relationship between laugher and laugher, or between laugher and laughed-at, coupled with the comic's appeal to the universality of human laughter--we are the only species that laughs according to Aristotle and Darwin, which means as a species we all laugh--is what makes of the comic into a remarkably ambiguous aesthetic that operates in that no-man's land between the danger of life's myriad ironies and the safety of traditional comic values of community and happy endings. This dissertation deals with this in-between zone.

  • Sisters in Sublime Sanctity: Schiller's Jungfrau, Euripides's Iphigenia Plays, and Joan of Arc on the Stage

    Author:
    John Pendergast
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Paul Oppenheimer
    Abstract:

    Abstract Sisters in Sublime Sanctity: Schiller’s Jungfrau, Euripides’s Iphigenia Plays, and Joan of Arc on the Stage by John Pendergast Adviser: Professor Paul Oppenheimer At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schiller reinvented the image of Joan of Arc in his play, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, with consequences that affected theatrical representations of Joan for the rest of that century and well into the twentieth. Regarding representations of Joan of Arc to be found in Shakespeare or Voltaire as unworthy of her nobility, Schiller set out to create a more powerful character who suffers at the hands of fate but changes history by sheer force of will. He took as his allegorical model the characterization of Iphigenia made famous by Euripides in Iphigenia among the Taurians and Iphigenia in Aulis, in which the ancient Greek tragedian transformed his heroine from a pitiable victim of fate into a fearsome priestess with the power to reverse a familial curse and unite a nation at war. Schiller was equally bold with the historical facts of Joan of Arc’s life. Inspired by Euripides, he introduced romance, paternal betrayal, and a rescue almost worthy of a deus ex machina. In Schiller’s alternate version, the enemy soldier who captured her in history becomes the object of her captivated gaze. In place of condemnation by the church, she finds herself denounced by her own father. Instead of burning at the stake, she experiences a glowing vision of the heavens as she dies in the glory of battle. The effect was electric, and his play’s enormous (albeit short-lived) popularity gave rise to numerous subsequent treatments, including a translation into Russian by Zhukovsky, an opera by Verdi, and an opera by Tchaikovsky. This dissertation examines the literary and aesthetic context in which Schiller created his drama and proposes several reasons for its notoriously ahistorical character. The fundamental, guiding concept here is “sublime sanctity,” which I plan to argue is the product of Schiller’s appropriation of Euripides’ themes into his play. Sublime sanctity, as I plan to show, is the essential quality in Schiller’s depiction of Joan, an idea that seizes the willing spectator and enables the play to achieve its intended force. I plan to argue, moreover, that subsequent versions only achieve their force by retaining key salient qualities that Schiller’s Joan shares with Euripides’ Iphigenia. Without them, these versions must fail; with them, audiences may be introduced to sublime sanctity itself, irrespective of their aesthetic dispositions. After establishing the ideas and principles underpinning sublime sanctity, the investigation will proceed chronologically, with an examination of other manifestations of Joan of Arc, primarily in the theater, either tracing their provenance directly to Schiller or, in the case of Shaw’s Saint Joan, bearing a high degree of affinity with his creation. The discussion will return often to the fluctuating distinctions between classicism and romanticism, idealism and realism, philosophy and history, and the impact produced by these ideas on the creative artists, their works, and their audiences. I will attempt to account for the enduring appeal – or just as often the lack thereof – of the various plays and operas on the basis of these ideas throughout the nineteenth century across Europe. I plan to consider these ideas more as reflections of the circumstances in which the works were created than as the basis for assessing their dramatic impact. Ultimately, this dissertation contends that the dramatic value of each of the theatrical incarnations of Joan of Arc under discussion must be judged by the degree to which the various authors and composers preserve the salient elements of sublime sanctity and create an atmosphere for the audience to respond to it.

  • The Sage and the Fool: Antithesis, Paradoxy, and Reconciliation in a Dialectical Poetics of "Moriasophia"

    Author:
    John Pilsner
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Clare Carroll
    Abstract:

    This study places the text and method of The Praise of Folly in a European context of folly-and-wisdom discourse, called here “moriasophia.” Moriasophia is a perennial theme with literary-historical origins, often depicted as two opposing figures in debate, or as a single, free-thinking individual confronting the dominant social, moral, and political order, or as a literary author writing in the ironic mode of truth-in-fiction. This study analyzes the literary trope on a theoretical level, demonstrating how a bivalent discourse of jest and earnest functions rhetorically and dialectically to explore and verify metaphysical, moral, and epistemological inferences. At issue is whether the breach between literary and logical methods may be reconciled by Folly, as she transforms images of ignorance and malice into likenesses of holy idiocy. Thematic continuity and cultural synthesis is demonstrated in ancient through early modern literature. The discussion emphasizes the seminal figures of Socrates, Diogenes, St. Paul, and Dionysius the Areopagite, with particular attention paid to Plato's Parmenides, Petrarch's On his own Ignorance, and Nicholas of Cusa's On Learned Ignorance and Idiota on Wisdom. The Praise of Folly represents a cultural high point not only because of its command of precedents, literary creativity, and rhetorical sophistication, but because Erasmus invents novel ways of engaging the reader in substantial questions about language, knowledge, and faith. The result is a new generic blueprint, a dialectical poetic which invites theoretical speculation even as it provokes an affective response to human experience.

  • Contemporary Albanian-Italian Literature: Mapping New Italian Voices

    Author:
    Anita Pinzi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Giancarlo Lombardi
    Abstract:

    This work thematically analyzes literary texts written in the Italian language by Albanian migrants in the last three decades. This recent body of works is here defined as Contemporary Albanian-Italian Literature. It is analyzed in its literary and theoretic specificities, while being placed in the larger contexts of both Italian Migration Literature and Italian Literature. Four major themes – namely memory, borders, language, and body – are analyzed through relevant critical theory in the areas of autobiography, post-colonial studies, Mediterranean studies, gender studies, and translation studies to show how Albanian-Italian literature lives at the intersection of multiple literary and theoretical discourses. While investigating a new migrant aesthetics which resonates of other migrant voices, this work registers both the birth of a post-communist narrative in Italian and the extension towards the East of the Italian post-colonial discourse. It is here argued that Albanian-Italian Literature, through its literary themes, socio-political implications, and linguistic displacement is giving a transnational quality to Italian Literature, intertwining it with a broader discourse on world literature.

  • Scrivere la diversità: autobiografia e politica in Clara Sereni

    Author:
    Giulia Po
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Eugenia Paulicelli
    Abstract:

    This monographic study provides a thematic examination across Clara Sereni's texts of life writing (autobiographies and one memoir) and fictional works. As the dissertation aims to demonstrate, writing is for Sereni a political act. The text, in fact, becomes her space to develop a female stance that asserts the importance of the private realm, reevaluate interpersonal and intergenerational relations, and show that diversity can be seen as a positive resource in society. Sereni's writing presents the undeniable influence of feminism: the significance of politicizing personal lives, the critique to the subaltern role of women in society, mother and daughter difficult relationship, gender, sexuality, and the body are central in her work, and echo that desire of political expression of subjectivity embodied by feminists. But her effort to subvert the male power, whether represented by his socio-political authority or his language, has deeper reasons rooted in the personal experiences of a family that always considered politics, ideals and culture as imperative duties. The writer exposes her own self to the public, finding that introspective world left out by her parents' public language and way of life because, in contrast to them, she cannot separate her private life from her public one. Writing subjectively becomes Sereni's way to reinterpret the experiences of the past in a process of autobiographical experimentation that embodies the feminine discourse, and allows the writer to shift her perspectives and better understand her own identity as Jewish, daughter, and woman. Writing about social issues is her way to voice a different way of perceiving those who have disadvantages in society, the underserved, the "others." In both cases, her writing acts to build a new horizon that she calls "utopia," which becomes a search that does not constrain itself, but welcomes contradictions and opens up to the creation of hybrid texts. The dissertation aims to frame Sereni's works into a precise socio-historical context, and to draw on theoretical criticism and research in areas related to women's writing, autobiography, concepts of memory, history and culture, and gender studies.