Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Kafka's German-Jewish Reception as Mirror of Modernity

    Author:
    Abraham Rubin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    This study explores the diverse and contradictory ways German-Jewish intellectuals identify what they commonly refer to as Kafka's "Jewish essence." Focusing on the commentaries of Margarete Susman, Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Gershom Scholem, and Max Brod, I claim that Kafka's German-Jewish reception reflects a broader historical dilemma that grew out of the Jewish encounter with modernity: Are Judaism and Jewishness best defined through religious, cultural, national, or ethnic categories? It is precisely this ambiguity that forms the historical backdrop to Kafka's Jewish interpretations. Situating the early phases of Kafka's posthumous reception within the broader context of interwar German-Jewish culture, my dissertation examines the different ways critics conceptualize their respective notions of "Jewishness" through an encounter with Kafka's writing and use it as a foil for the self-fashioning of their own Jewish identity. As the dissertation title is meant to suggest, my work builds on Gerson D. Cohen's influential essay "German Jewry as Mirror of Modernity" (1975), which argues that German Jewry's diverging responses to modernity exemplify the cultural and ideological alternatives available to any religious group faced with the challenge of redefining itself in the modern era. Extending Cohen's thesis to Kafka's early reception, I show how the critical response to his fiction mirrors the transformations that occurred in Jewish self-understanding throughout the first decades of the twentieth-century. On a broader level, this project seeks to understand the ways secular Jewish identity is reconceived in the field of cultural production, and how it is translated into modern categories of nation, culture, and ethnicity.

  • From Theater to Cinematography: the Disquiet of Modernity in Pirandello and His Contemporaries

    Author:
    LISA SARTI
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    GIANCARLO LOMBARDI
    Abstract:

    From Theater to Cinematography: The Disquiet of Modernity in Pirandello and His Contemporaries investigates visual perception from the mid-nineteenth century until 1929, tracing the developments and controversies that would lead to the first talking films. Defining the `performative' space of mass entertainment as a conflict between street amusement and legitimized "art" theatre, I call attention to how visual spectacles in the city square blurred and subverted categories of class and aesthetics. Central to the inquiry is the aggressive way the cinematograph replaced theater as the leading entertainment in Europe and America. More specifically, the situation in Italy is closely examined, in particular the ambivalence of Pirandello with respect to film. The first chapter recounts the historical, social, and cultural background in which Italian visual culture took root. The Italian case is juxtaposed with that of France and England, where industrialization and economic advantage led to a flourishing of visual entertainment. Early devices are discussed in terms of technology, commerce, and more theoretically as triggers of a new spectatorship, a new mode to theatralize settings and increasingly immerse the viewer in visual movement. The second chapter explores different forms of entertainment and their modes of commercialization before the advent of cinematography within the rising commercialism and internationalism of modern culture. The third and final part deals with the theater/cinema debate over the artistic legitimacy of the new art form. Pirandello's theoretical writings and Si gira..., his seminal novel on the disconcerting effects of the cinematic spectacle, as well as several adaptions, are for the first time examined as significant in his career.  

  • Fairy Tales: a world between the imaginary-Metaphor at play in Lo cunto de li cunti by Gianbattista Basile

    Author:
    Carmela Scala
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Giuseppe DiScipio
    Abstract:

    THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK Abstract Fairy Tales: a world between the imaginary-Metaphors at play in Lo cunto de li cunti by Giambattista Basile by Carmela Bernardetta Scala Adviser: Professor Giuseppe Di Scipio The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate Basile's contribution to the establishment of fairytales as a literary genre; the focus is on his masterpiece Lo cunto de li cunti. This thesis examines its debt to tradition and its influence on posterity, while also studying Basile's unique use of metaphors in the rich Neapolitan dialect. As this study reveals metaphors in Lo cunto de li cunti are not used simply as a mean of embellishment; rather they are employed as a way to inform the reader of the rich folkloric tradition of Naples during the baroque period as well as of Basile's discontent with the socio-political situation of his times. The use of metaphors is so pervasive that one could argue that the book is itself a metaphor through which Basile conveys his ideals and his utopia of a liberated Naples and of more just society; as well as the importance of the Neapolitan dialect and its linguistic registers. Furthermore, this dissertation proposes a new interpretation of the female characters of the tales and it raises a discussion on gender roles both in modern and past societies.

  • The Bungled One: Failure and the Fictional Impetus

    Author:
    Noam Scheindlin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    Fictional narrative is the ability to see what "I" cannot. If in "life," that is, in space and in time, we cannot see where we are precisely because we are spatially and temporally situated, fictional narrative permits an Archimedean point, a perspective from outside, allowing us a product: a beginning, middle and end that we, real flesh-and-blood readers, cannot have in our own lives. The paradox, then, is that this narrative vision cannot represent our vision. This, we might say, defines the realm of the fictional. The same applies to the relationship between the writer and what he/she writes: the voice, the "I" of the author necessarily is elided, consumed in its own creation. In the end, narration is always incomplete. One can never create a narrative that includes the act of writing, or even the impulse to write. To recount anything requires a super-human stance, a fictional stance if fiction is understood in its broadest sense. The narratorial position is diaphanous in relation to that which it narrates; it is a position that is not simply outside the act of narration, but of a different modality. As narration approaches the moment of narrating, expression fails; just before the ultimate silence, the narrative's last words could only approximate, "I am writing, I am writing, I am writing..." I argue that there is a failure of vision built into human consciousness, and thus, in the experience of life. Fiction, I argue, attempts to repair this fissure, and in doing so, allows us to see where we are. The very fictionality of fiction, however, its constitutive requirement of creating a unified world (a beginning, middle, and end), forbids it from completing its task: representing life as it is lived. The representation of the creative process in fiction, then, must ultimately repeat and extend this fissure. The problematic that underlies this study is that if fiction arises in order to repair this rift in consciousness, it remains at the same time one of the principal constituents that keeps this rift in place. This basis for this dissertation, then, is that the act of writing is incompatible with the content of the written, and that fiction is founded on this incompatibility. The hypothesis that I attempt to demonstrate is that this incompatibility results in the necessary formation of an ontological category of fiction before any generic category is implemented (novel, autobiography, historical account etc.) that tells the reader how to read, how to engage with the referent. The corollary to this hypothesis is that what applies to fiction necessarily applies to language as a whole: that human consciousness is constituted in an engagement with fiction. My method is an interrogation of fictional accounts of the act of creation and of writing, because, as I demonstrate in the introductory chapter, if fiction is to be understood as a general, ontological category, it is in the genre "fiction" that this problematic can best be explored. More importantly, I argue, it is the genre of fiction that is the site of coming to terms with this aspect of human consciousness, and that it must do so in the form of a coming to terms with a failure in self-representation. My inquiry, then, lies in the clash of modalities between the unified realm of fiction, and the fragmented realm of life experience. In engaging in the inquiry, I attempt to offer a theory of the role of fiction in human consciousness that incorporates two philosophical traditions: that of hermeneutic interpretation and that of phenomenological inuition. The field of my inquiry is twofold, and offers a critique of two ideologies with regard to the role that fiction plays in repairing the deficit in vision in human consciousness. 1) I investigate narratives that question, transgress, attempt to reconcile, or attempt to eradicate this split between the realm of fiction and life, what I call outside-directed narratives. The principal literary texts which I study here are the Biblical book of Genesis, and Georges Perec's W ou le souvenir d'enfance. 2) Correspondingly, I investigate inside-directed narratives, texts that highlight this clash of modalities and, rather than attempt a reconciliation, bring it into obtrusiveness either joyously or despairingly as fictions of failure. The principal texts that I discuss here are Herman Melville's Pierre or the Ambiguities and Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu, both novels in which the hero is writing a book that the reader never gets to see. In every case, the role of the author, whether the author as a character in the novel, or the real flesh-and-blood author is understood to be in a state of exile from the writing itself. It is for this reason that I begin with the book of Genesis, which takes both creation and exile as its theme. Ultimately, I argue, fiction, does not simply produce an analog of the "I" by which we can infer who this "I" is. Rather, in the very process of coming-into-consciousness, in the fulfillment of perception as narrative, the "I" gets created in the very experiencing of this failure. Fiction, I conclude, is an endless process of reparation, that involves both a revelation of the condition, and the ability to envision, and create, new forms of human existence, poesis in the strongest sense of the word. Fiction, in other words, is vision: it is built out of an "I" that is inexpressible, unavailable to itself. This inability, this inexpressibility is however, the possibility of creation Ultimately, it is the failure of the transcendental viewpoint, the understanding of its fictionality, that one works through: the understanding that one can remain neither completely absorbed in life, nor an alienated observer to it; that one is both participant and observer, in a relation both of mutual exclusion and of dialogue.

  • The Mysteries of History: Adaptations and Reconfigurations of Contemporary Crime Fiction on Both Sides of the Atlantic

    Author:
    David Sharp
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Eugenia Paulicelli
    Abstract:

    ABSTRACT The Mysteries of History: Adaptations and Reconfigurations of Contemporary Crime Fiction on Both Sides of the Atlantic by David Sharp Adviser: Professor Eugenia Paulicelli This dissertation examines the use of a specific literary genre in the attempt to represent individual perspectives of history in fictional narratives. Considering contemporary crime fiction from both Argentina and Italy, the study attempts to define notable adaptations and alterations within the form that have been forged by various authors to reflect their particular concerns, perspectives and subjectivities as they examine historical events and eras in their respective nations. In this examination, I define characteristics of a subgenre that I have designated as the "Historical Mystery Novel." This subgenre of crime fiction designates literary texts that employ an investigative protocol and methodology to explore and critique complex notions about space and time, individual consciousness, memory, truth, identity and culture, particularly during times of political repression and social upheaval. The historical mystery novels discussed in the work include traditional, hybrid and inventive narratives written in the latter half of the 20th century and in the first decade of the 21st century by: Gianrico Carofiglio, Ricardo Feierstein, Dacia Maraini, Ricardo Piglia, Ernesto Sabato, Guillermo Saccomanno, Simone Sarasso, and Leonardo Sciascia. Adopting a comparatist stance, the texts from two national literary traditions are placed into conversation with each other and explicated to suggest meaningful analogies, similarities and divergences between the authors' perspectives on societal progress and the value they ascribe to literature as a serious and apt method of historical inquiry. In the examination of the historical mystery novel, the dissertation considers scholarship in the fields of historiography, genre, memory, cultural theory, and literary theory and criticism.

  • Warscapes: Perspectives on a Literature of Postcolonial Violence

    Author:
    Bhakti Shringarpure
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    My dissertation explores civil violence in the postcolony and its representation in contemporary literature. Whether in the form of civil war in Algeria, genocide in Rwanda or religious riots in India, these events are a direct result of the political, legal and intellectual foundation of colonialism. Representation of this internecine violence is widespread in novels, poetry and drama, but it remains an under-explored topic in postcolonial studies. Firstly, my dissertation offers a historical and theoretical approach to locate the origins of this phenomenon through a re-reading of the writings of thinkers and leaders of decolonization, especially Frantz Fanon, Mahatma Gandhi and Amilcar Cabral. A scrutiny of the climate and theories of this period allows for an understanding of why most former colonies failed to make successful transition into independent nation-states and have instead become settings of gruesome civil conflicts. This section becomes the theoretical context within which my chosen corpus of literature can be placed. Secondly, drawing from approximately thirty postcolonial novels about civil violence, I examine their representations of the nation, the figure of the "other," space and architecture, violence, gender and children. Lastly, I formulate a critique of the field of postcolonial studies and simultaneously expand its scope by including this hitherto under-examined literature.

  • The Discourse of Marriage in the French Fabliaux and Chaucer's Shipman's Tale

    Author:
    Patricia Sokolski
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Adviser: Professor Ammiel Alcalay Fabliaux are short comic tales in verse that appeared in twelfth century Northern France. Most often anonymous, they circulated orally before they were compiled in manuscripts. The fabliaux were no longer written in fourteenth century France, but Chaucer used the form in the Canterbury Tales. The fabliaux, situated mostly in the towns of Northern France, Picardy and Flanders where the economic expansion of the twelfth century started, portray the lives of merchants, craftsmen, and rich peasants, members of the emerging bourgeoisie. During this time, the definition of a Christian marriage based on consent, affection, and indissolubility was finalized. The fabliaux address the concerns, anxieties, and identity development of this emerging group of people, as they adapt to a new economy as well as a different understanding of marriage. Studying the fabliaux in the context of their production and applying concepts from conflict and relationship equality theories, makes it possible to evaluate the quality of the fabliaux marriages in the context of the new discourse of the church. The romances of Chrétien de Troyes (Cligès , Yvain and Erec et Enide) and the Lais of Marie France, especially Le Frêne, show how the aristocracy is adapting to the new emphasis on consent and affection. Similarly, the fabliaux offer the emerging bourgeoisie possibilities to rethink marital relationships in the context of the market economy by depicting these unions as exchanges whose ultimate goal is the satisfaction of both parties. This understanding of the fabliau is reinforced in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale , which, using the same form, imagines the internalizing of the mercantile ethos in marital relationships. The texts analyzed here contrast two kinds of fabliaux marriages: the successful partnerships based on consent and affection where the characters learn to accommodate each other's needs versus the ones where one spouse is always dissatisfied. While the marriages based on consent and affection achieve equity, the characters enact traditional roles for husbands and wives. Going further, the Shipman's Tale offers the possibility for equality in marriage as the wife manipulates her husband into agreeing to her terms for repayment of a debt. The merchant and his wife's relationship exemplifies a marital partnership framed by the new understanding of marriage and the values of the market economy, providing a model for the emerging bourgeoisie.

  • FREEDOM TURNED AGAINST ITSELF: STUDIES IN THE LITERATURE OF SUICIDE

    Author:
    Christopher Trogan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    By the late eighteenth century, with the growing emphasis on the self, suicide had become a widespread topic of literary and philosophical debate in Europe. Not since antiquity had references to self-death occurred with such frequency and commanded such serious intellectual attention. Major Enlightenment figures such as Hume, Kant, Mill, Rousseau, and Voltaire contributed to a budding discussion of suicide and personal freedom which led to a variety of literary stances over the next three centuries in the works of Schiller, Goethe, Hölderlin, Ibsen, Camus, and Sartre. Each of these authors approached suicide within the context of various forms of individual freedom - moral, social, spiritual, and existential. This dissertation examines the major philosophical arguments for and against suicide (including those of Hume, Kant, Mill, and Schopenhauer) as well as some of the most significant literary responses to these arguments. While philosophers have tended to treat the issue with absolute decisiveness, the literary responses examined here have handled it with an openness that recognizes the complex and multifaceted nature of the problem. Indeed, these literary stances suggest that the problem of suicide and individual freedom is ultimately irresolvable. The dissertation concludes with a reflection on how suicide is treated today. It argues that there is now relatively little debate, and that one's decision to kill oneself is hardly ever considered within the context of individual freedom. Instead, suicide is treated as a symptom of pathology. While there are certainly legitimate sociological justifications for this, the dissertation suggests that we must be careful not to sideline the complex problems that Schiller, Goethe, Hölderlin, Ibsen, Sartre, and Camus recognized - fundamental problems regarding individual freedom that might not have definitive solutions. To reduce the issue to a seemingly incontestable philosophical argument, or to assume it is merely an indication of pathology, offers artificial closure to a problem that refuses to subside.

  • Reexamining `The Dancer and the Dance': Postmodern Considerations in Contemporary Irish and Italian Literature

    Author:
    Kristina Varade
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Giancarlo Lombardi
    Abstract:

    Adviser: Professor Giancarlo Lombardi This dissertation considers the implications of a global, postmodern culture on the contemporary fiction of both Ireland and Italy and seeks to newly engage two seemingly disparate national literatures in dialogue with one another. While both cultures do share a similar religious background, I argue that comparisons between Irish and Italian contemporary literature instead arise from the pressures of a worldview based upon hyper-globalization and changing social norms. In reinterpreting Yeats's question, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?," I argue that values of wholeness and unity previously found in a modernist discourse are in themselves no longer valid points of argument, and that Yeats's poetry itself demonstrates the symptomatic nature of this perspective; instead, one must now consider the fragments of narration, narrative, and narrative discourse found in 21st century literature in order to create new forms of identification. Furthermore, I seek to provide a more thorough understanding of contemporary literary criticism in this dissertation with respect to the Irish and Italian literature published right before and soon after the turn of the millennium. In doing so, I show that there is a difference in the way that postmodern literature has been understood and/or appropriated by the two national discourses. While Italian postmodern literature demonstrates a generally linear progression of development beginning with Pirandello and continuing through both Pulp and "Cannibali" literary styles in order to arrive at a contemporary global/postmodern discourse which reflects technology, music, consumerism and fragmentation, Irish contemporary literature lacks such a linear tradition of postmodern discourse; this could be attributed, as I argue, to a resistance to deep literary change, as well as to the "weight of tradition" as theorized by such scholars as Joe Cleary. Topics of examination concern postmodern representations of technology, media, alienation, fragmentation, and communicative control in the works of writers such as Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Barry McCrea and Patrick McCabe (Irish) and Niccolò Ammaniti, Aldo Nove and Rossana Campo (Italian). Critical analysis focuses upon Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, which provides the most relevant postmodern analysis of the ways in which literature and society respond to the contemporary global worldview.

  • Writing the Acoustic Self in English Modernism

    Author:
    Zoltan Varga
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    The dissertation maps the different modes employed for the musicalization of fiction in English modernism, mainly focusing on novels by E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, and Virginia Woolf. While music is usually present on the level of structure and characterization in these texts, I claim that even its structural applications are related to characterization and address modernist dilemmas regarding the notions of self and identity. I delineate three modes of musicalization in English modernist fiction-the fugue, absolute music, and Gesamtkunstwerk-and argue that they are interrelated with an emerging modernist critique of the subject. Employing methods of narrative theory, semiotics, and musical semiotics, I aim to show how music, in its paradoxical relationship with representation and language, generates an interference within fictional texts, creating an aporia that allows for an analogy with the constitution of human subjectivity.