Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Scrivere la diversit√†: 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.

  • The Aesthetics of Destiny in Plague Literature from Early Modern to Postmodern Times

    Author:
    Patrick Reilly
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    ABSTRACT The Aesthetics of Destiny in Plague Literature from Early Modern to Postmodern Times your words by Patrick Reilly Adviser: Professor Vincent Crapanzano For centuries--for millennia, at least since the myth of the Plague at Aegina--the subject of plague has been generating an aesthetic that distinctly characterizes its manifold texts, five of which this dissertation considers in depth: A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), Daniel Defoe; The Betrothed (1840), Alessandro Manzoni; Death in Venice (1912), Thomas Mann; The Plague (1947), Albert Camus; and Angels in America (1993), Tony Kushner. While plague texts, no matter how culturally particular and historically specific may be their narrative elements, repeatedly share distinguishable metaphysical themes and mythical motifs, they are more fundamentally wed to each other by their aesthetic response to the overwhelming fact of disease and pestilence. To classify such texts as apocalyptic is already to be approaching them in terms of their aesthetic, as the designation is not only a way of defining plague texts but also, and more importantly to an exploration of their aesthetic, a way of perceiving plague itself. For the descriptive "apocalyptic" also aggrandizes. It invests plague with significance. Angry gods, for example, must be appeased; a savior-scapegoat must die if the people are to be delivered from the pestilence on the land. The bald facts of disease and death become aesthetically, in plague texts, a matter of design and destiny. As it was in ancient Greece, aesthetics is defined, for purposes of this study, as perception. In the perception of a subject's reality the aesthetic process begins. The reality of plague lies in the fact of it, but to see the fact as diabolical, tragic, cataclysmic, or redemptive is to see--or to perceive--the subject in an aesthetic way. What begins with the perception of pestilential fact ends in its re-presentation as plague text. The text translates the perceived reality into a literary one, for the act of translation is also an act of signification, in which aesthetic constructs like that of destiny, are employed to make sense of what in fact, and terrifyingly, lacks or defies sense. So it is aesthetically that a plague-stricken city's destiny may lie in the hands of God. Or in a migratory bacillus.

  • All At One Point: The New Physics of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges

    Author:
    Mark Rinaldi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Giancarlo Lombardi
    Abstract:

    This work of comparative literary criticism focuses on the presence of mathematical and scientific concepts and imagery in the works of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, beginning with an historical overview of scientific philosophy and an introduction to the most significant scientific concepts of the last several centuries, before shifting to deep, scientifically-driven analyses of numerous individual fictions, and finally concluding with a meditation on the unexpectedly fictive aspects of science and mathematics. The close readings of these authors' fictions are contextualized with thorough explanations of the potential literary implications of theories from physics, mathematics, neuroscience and chaos theory. While the mathematical studies highlight concepts such as "Zeno's Paradox," Cantorian set theory, and representations of numerical infinity, the discussions of physics isolate theoretical structures such as black holes, parallel universes and quantum-entangled particles for use in discussing the fictions of both authors. Underlying the main goals of this work is an equal focus on the existence of an "ideal intellectual" or, more broadly, an ideal liberal arts education that draws together concepts from diverse and seemingly-unrelated fields of knowledge with the intention of generating unexpected and novel ideas and connections. By demonstrating the numerous appearances of scientific and mathematical imagery in the works of Calvino and Borges, this work emphasizes the shared fictive basis of all human knowledge and strives to set science and fiction alongside each other as equals in the hope of preserving the richness and diversity of intellectual enterprises.

  • Tempo della Morte e Spazio dell'Azione: Francis Ford Coppola in Tulsa

    Author:
    Flavio Rizzo
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Abstract FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA IN TULSA by Flavio Rizzo Advisor: Professor Ammiel Alcalay The goal of this dissertation is to put into context and underline, through the films Rumble Fish and The Outisders, the double vision of cinema of the North American director Francis Ford Coppola, and his capacity to envision and match the two fundamental aspects of cinema, often in conflict: commerce and art. The dissertation is structured on four chapters. The first one concerns a brief historic and cultural contextualization of the director and his artistic path; clearly since the material is so large, the intent here is not to exhaust the topic or produce a full biography of Francis Ford Coppola, to the contrary, the intent is to produce a gaze, a seed that will be a crucial tool in contextualizing the analysis of the two films that are at the center of this work. In revisiting the career of the director, particular attention is given to his own words; because of the impossibility of an in depth analysis of all his movies, a preference has been given to the completeness of Coppola's own words as a better vehicle to create a frame of reference. The frame of reference will also include the crucial passage from the "Old Hollywood" to the "New Hollywood" in terms of production mode and cultural shifts. The chapter closes with a brief history of the birth of the project, the basis around which it developed, and the financial circumstances that created it. The object of the following chapters is the history and the analysis of the films, first The Outsiders and in the following chapter Rumble Fish. In both cases we start from an accurate analysis of the filmic text (the breakdown of the text will enable us to arrive at a better understanding of Coppola's choices both in terms of language and in terms of narrative). The work carries on with a comparative analysis with the literary texts from which the movies have been originated, two short stories from the North American writer Susan. E. Hinton. Next is a detailed critical work around the original starting point: the double vision of cinema of the director, commercial (The Outsiders) and artistic (Rumble Fish); attention is given to Coppola's ability to conceive the two films in complete opposite ways from a cinematic point of view, but absolutely identical from the point of view of the preparation. We will also see how the first movie, The Outsiders, has been quite literally a `gym' for the visual solution and camera movements that in the second film, Rumble fish, will turn into an actual signature of the author. Both chapters close trying to unlock the movies and directors that inspired Coppola: the authors' inheritance. The dissertation closes with a comparative analysis of the two films that put into a larger context the points emerged in the previous chapters, while new elements will emerge some of the main points will be reinforced. Particular attention will be given to a cross analysis of the filmic texts from which we shall see the numeric terms (typology of shots, camera movements, choice in cuts) which gave birth to the critical considerations emerged in the previous chapters. This dissertation does not want to be a work on the extraordinary complexity of Francis Ford Coppola's filmography, it is rather a voyage within two minor films of his, a journey that will try to bring into light some fundamental aspects of Coppola's understanding of cinema. My work is a comparative study that, trough an objective analysis of filmic texts, will underline the complexity of Coppola's project, beyond the contextualization of the director's career. The attempt is to have a crescendo from a simple contextualization, to the work around each film, on into the comparative analysis of their cinematic language within which the critical work will be grounded.

  • 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.