Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • CRISIS, FORMULATION AND AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL INTIMACY IN 1950s AMERICA

    Author:
    Olga Aksakalova
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    Crisis, Formulation, and Autobiographical Intimacy in 1950s America explores how critical circumstances of historical and personal significance can inspire and direct autobiographical production. I concentrate on Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City (1951), Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory (1967), and Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959), three American autobiographies whose first or final versions were produced in the nineteen fifties, decade marked by a surge of autobiographical texts and genres in the United States and the emergence of autobiographical theory in France. Engaging with Robert Jay Lifton's theory of trauma, namely the concept of formulation, I investigate how the relationship between the self and the world is fostered in the wake of a crisis as reflected in autobiographical performance unfolding through drafting, meta-writing, revision, publication, and republication. As I trace the evolution of the texts, I find each author's persistent attempt to forge a connection to the multiple relational others, including the reader, implicated in the autobiographical act. I argue that the prospect and process of gaining this connection - at once troubling and rewarding - tend to stimulate writing and facilitate revision as the writers cross the threshold from the pre-war to the post-war world and grapple with the shifts occurring in their private lives. In the course of writing and re-writing their autobiographies, Kazin, Nabokov, and Lowell develop a special kind of closeness with their relational others that arises from the interrelated acts of identification, projection, and narration. Looking at autobiographical process (revision, textual versioning) rather than merely product (final text), I illustrate how these acts are enhanced, qualified, or reversed as they are repeated. They produce autobiographical intimacy: forged by various forms of interaction(s), it is a virtual space whereby participants of the autobiographical act foster communication, reciprocity, and potentially trust - productively or otherwise.

  • National Physiology: Literature, Medicine, and the Invention of the American Body, 1789-1860

    Author:
    Sari Altschuler
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    "National Physiology" investigates the intertwined discourses of literature and medicine in the proto-disciplinary early American world. It makes three interventions. First, in contrast to existing scholarship that has actively neglected it, I bring to light an important history of early American medicine. Second, I show how American writers produced medical models of their own. Literary figures did not simply reflect medicine in their texts, but used fiction to craft medical philosophies, which they believed directly promoted the health of the nation. Finally, I argue these histories were not separate, but intimately connected: doctors and writers worked together to craft an American body that was metonymically linked to the healthy nation. In mining the relationship between medicine and literature in the early republic, my project is the first to offer a genealogy of the Medical Humanities in America; it also suggests that by looking at this history, we will find promising new models for interdisciplinary scholarship. The writings of prominent doctors and writers who were friends, teachers, and colleagues in the early U.S. political and medical capital anchor this study. My dissertation traces the development of a "national physiology" that understood the body and nation always to be, in founding father Benjamin Rush's words "tremendous, oscillatory mass[es] of matter," systems defined by motion and flux. National physiology was based in the connected mechanisms of circulation and sympathy that were always simultaneously physiological, philosophical, and political. I demonstrate how American medical philosophy broke with European models and developed dynamic notions that offered non-hierarchical alternatives. There was an American school of medicine, and this school used literary forms as central rhetorical tools to promote health. Rather than be surprised by the prevalence of doctor-writers, I suggest such figures reveal the generic fluidity of early American discourse. Tracing a literary history from Charles Brockden Brown to Weir Mitchell, my project illuminates the medical and political work of early American fiction. Turning to periods when disciplinary boundaries were not fully formed offers exciting possibilities both for future Medical Humanities, with its investments in unraveling disciplinary distinctions, and for providing insight into (inter)disciplinary work more broadly.

  • Brokering Literacies: An Ethnographic Study of Languages and Literacies in Mexican Immigrant Families

    Author:
    Steven Alvarez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ira Shor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation studies how English language acquisition and literacy transformed family relations and structured educational ambitions within a specific Spanish-dominant urban immigrant community. Ten first-generation Mexican-origin immigrant families living in New York City were the focus, all members of a small, under-funded, self-sustained educational mentoring program, whose core of eleven dedicated volunteers were also participants in this qualitative study. The grassroots organization offered free after-school tutoring services while also promoting active family involvement in schooling and positive views toward ethnic and linguistic identities. The organization also helped to mediate and bridge the linguistic miscommunications between schools and language minority parents. In addition, the program cultivated a sense of community and academic participation closely allied to ethnic identity, encouraging a sense of value for bilingualism as a political tool for--and the everyday reality of--immigrant children. Finally, the program also sponsored and reinforced the notion of standard English acquisition as valuable for academic success, while offering a space where standard and nonstandard languages and literacies freely mixed and where bilingual exchanges between individuals openly nurtured, critiqued, and, ultimately, defended the distinctive, monolingual spoken and written standard English language of schooling. Through ethnographic observation and analysis of oral and written language at the program's center, the study examines the rhetoric of "brokered" social relations in the bilingual exchanges among the organization's volunteer staff of college and high school student mentors and its numerous youth and adult members, paying particular attention to documenting the various linguistic skills developed by bilingual youth, mentors, and parents. I argue that the notions of culturally valuable literacy skills of translation and language brokering, undervalued and existing outside the dominant models of school culture and literacy practices, were actively utilized at the center. Day-to-day translations between languages for the children participants at this mentoring program meant involving and engaging monolingual family members in their schooling lives, which were largely conducted in a second language. This collaboration in immigrant families, though, produced conflicts from linguistic inequalities which re-distributed authority in family linguistic exchanges. The program's mentors mediated such shared power contexts, allowing language minority parents access to collaboration in their children's educations in English, while also encouraging language brokering skills among young bilinguals.

  • 'The Duty of Woman by Woman': Exploring Female Friendships in Jane Austen's Novels

    Author:
    Monica Alvarez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Donald Stone
    Abstract:

    Though men populate the pages of Jane Austen's novels, her interest is not in a male world. This dissertation argues that the central theme of Austen's oeuvre is not marriage, but the bonds forged within female same-sex networks: the three kinds of friendships in which Austen's heroines engage--defined by ties of blood, surrogate kinship, or circumstance--ease them into heterosexual society while allowing them to challenge some of the institutions and conventions that define them as nonentities. Ranging from devotion to manipulation, the three types of friendship present in Austen's six published novels allow the heroines to experience both supportive understanding and competititive hostility in a safe environment. This work argues that the attachment between each protagonist and another woman promotes a strong sense of identity that allows her to enter into the larger society surrounding her female world from a position of strength through marriage--the heroine's only venue of social recognition, visibility, and success. Here, I contend that Jane Austen's novels portray friendships between women as the strongest source of female identity because the self-awareness they advance allows the heroine to resist her culture's unwillingness to acknowledge her as an intellectual and moral agent.

  • The Transnational Body in American Literature, 1798-1846

    Author:
    Talia Argondezzi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    Post-revolutionary American authors, living under a relatively stable government and economy, turned their attention simultaneously inward and outward: inward to understand the strange workings of the human body, and outward to comprehend and control new territory. Focusing on the period between the Quasi-War with France and the U.S. War with Mexico, conflicts in which the United States asserted its international power, I identify several novels that dramatize the outward gaze toward new territory through an inward gaze toward the body. The Transnational Body puts embodiment into conversation with early American politics, not only because the body is a conventional symbol for the political sphere, but also because early U.S. policies, both domestic and international, were predicated on notions of race and sex, distinctions thought to be identifiable on the body. Flouting the expectation that embodiment is largely a personal, highly localized matter, this dissertation seeks a new route through early American literature by interrogating what extraordinary fictional bodies express about early U.S. politics, particularly the politics of expansion and borders. In each novel I examine, the author makes a spectacle of embodiment by representing unusual bodily events, such as dismemberment, cannibalism, metempsychosis, and mesmerism, that serve as indices of the young United States' uncertainty about its position in the world. By attending to the embodied domestic and international politics within each novel, I conclude first that anxieties about democracy, race, national stability, and expansion pervade early U.S. literature. Moreover, I argue that these novels help us trace a trajectory through the first half of the nineteenth century. I discern a shift from anxiety about the leveling effects of democracy in the late eighteenth century, through tentative experimentation with expansionism in the early nineteenth century, to anxieties about secession and faction that undergirded the rising nationalistic sentiments of the 1820s, ultimately to uncertainty about the imperialistic results of that nationalism. Throughout this trajectory, a constant remains: early U.S. thinking about politics, and especially about the relationship between domestic and international spheres, is intertwined with the body. The Transnational Body examines these imbrications between politics and the body.

  • Eliot's Spinoza: Realism, Affect, and Ethics

    Author:
    James Arnett
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation, the intersection of the affective-ethical philosophy of Spinoza and the realism of the nineteenth-century British novelist George Eliot are mapped. Eliot was the first translator of Spinoza--though her translations were never published--and few scholars have worked out the ways in which her novels are steeped in his philosophy. This dissertation seeks to make an intervention first in the fields of Victorian literature and realism, but also in the developing field of affect studies, and contributes to interdisciplinary conversations about the confluence of literature and philosophy. The expansive introduction of the dissertation looks closely at the philosophical translations that occupied Eliot in the earliest stages of her career--Strauss, Feuerbach, and Spinoza--and the ways in which these foundational texts congeal into a discourse of philosophical materialism that informed her commitments to literary realism. Chapter 1 analyzes the ways in which Eliot deploys large-scale organic and scientific metaphors in Middlemarch in order to metaphorize Spinoza's concept of immanence, which she deploys in order to emphasize human impingement. Chapter 2 moves to consider Middlemarch's ethos of sympathy as an application of Spinoza's affective ethics. Chapters 3 and 4 proceed to interrogate the role that knowledge and education play in the shaping of an ethical praxis in Daniel Deronda and Felix Holt, the Radical; in the former, knowledge and education is represented in such a way as the means to a Spinozist version of individual freedom, and in the latter, education is seen as the lever by which an interpersonal ethics is transformed into a collective politics. The final two chapters explore the imbrication of kinship, nationalism, and politics in The Spanish Gypsy, Daniel Deronda, and The Impressions of Theophrastus Such, and argue that these three texts represent Eliot's substantial critique of the ethical utility of collective politics as developed by Spinoza in his Political Treatise.

  • As Film is, so goes the Novel: The Image, Film Ekphrasis, and History in the Contemporary Novel

    Author:
    Ece Aykol
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Gerhard Joseph
    Abstract:

    My dissertation studies the use of the verbal representation of analog film in the novels of contemporary writers Paul Auster, Adam Thorpe, and Orhan Pamuk. I look at these authors' use of the moving image in relation to the existing poetics of the ekphrasis of still images and art objects. Film, understood as the "temporalization of space," informs the way in which I interpret film ekphrasis different from the ekphrasis of still objects that "spatialize temporality." In trying to emulate this temporal art form with words, these authors create a poetics of film ekphrasis, which constitutes a representation of the past in the present continuous. Their allusion to the analog image enables them to find creative means of constructing history and memory. My study also addresses the "digital" image and explains how its construction of time differs from the analog image. In order to grasp the tension between the analog and digital, and to reveal how visual artists are responding to emerging technologies, I turn to the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Michel Gondry, and Wim Wenders, as well as to JoAnn Verburg's photographs and Sam Taylor Wood's mixed media art. Understanding current practices in the visual arts, I suggest, can produce interpretive strategies for the ekphrasis of digital films.

  • Queer Environmentality: Thoreau, Melville, Cather, and Barnes

    Author:
    Robert Azzarello
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    My chief objective in this project is to draw some connections between queer studies and environmental studies within the more general context of literary studies. I will propose an alternative understanding of literary environmentalism, rich in tropological abundance, poetic complexity, and hermeneutic indeterminacy, and I will magnify a queer sensibility, present in varying degrees, in this history, or what I call "queer environmentality." In order to develop this queer-environmental literary theory, I perform careful exegeses of four key figures in the American tradition: Thoreau, Melville, Cather, and Djuna Barnes. Each writer problematizes conventional notions of the strange matrix between the human, the natural, and the sexual, and thus challenges the assumption that the subject of American environmental literature is essentially and consubstantially heterosexual. Each brilliantly demonstrates the ways in which the queer project and the environmental project are always already connected, that is to say, in which the questions and politics of human sexuality are always entwined with the questions and politics of the other-than-human world. Like Charles Darwin, the four primary objects of my analysis--Thoreau, Melville, Cather, and Barnes--believe in reconsidering the human as a natural being, as a species, or type of being, that occupies a particular niche in the order of things, and, therefore, as subject to the explanatory gestures afforded to other species that also constitute and populate their particular biological kingdom. But figuring the human as natural does not provide a stable ontology, nor does it permit an escape from all kinds of epistemological problematics. Like Henri Bergson, each thinker takes seriously the profound connection between ontology and epistemology and offers long meditations on the super-saturation of life--human and otherwise--with desires and aims, with indeterminate geneses and inexplicably deferred endpoints. Thoreau's sinewy sense of "sensuality" within the animal-human-divine matrix, Melville's symbolic struggle with extra-human forces, Cather's cryptic musings on the singularity of organic composition, and Barnes's biologically inflected--perhaps infected--decadence all point to an environment as explosive with meaning, with "interlinked terrors and wonders" (Moby-Dick 139), as the creatures that dwell within.

  • Aesthetic Autobiography and The Poetics of Despair in Post-War American Literature

    Author:
    David Bahr
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation repositions "aesthetic" in its ancient Greek context, meaning to apprehend by the senses. The project is framed around my idea of the aesthetic autobiography, a creative work that phenomenologically conveys the embodied experience of its author. I do not use "aesthetic" as a transcendentalist term of critical assessment, as defined by Kant; instead, the term denotes the immanent realm of the senses. This move allows me to connect the aesthetic to affect, whose etymology I trace from the mid 18th Century to contemporary affect theory. I theorize the aesthetic as a dynamic and relational biophysical force. I aim to extend the boundaries of autobiographical "truth" in order to accommodate the feeling body, which exists in excess and often beyond the reach of conceptual language. Specifically, I examine how five post-war authors formally confront the challenge of conveying the sensation of depression. By focusing on formal experiments in rhythm, syntax, structure, imagery, and genre, I look at texts by Allen Ginsberg, Joan Didion, Tim O'Brien, Art Spiegelman, and Darryl Cunningham. Grounding the project in mid-twentieth century America, chapter 1 begins with Edmund Wilson's "The Wound and the Bow" (1941), which situates the psychologically wounded artist as a vital and connective social force. In chapters 2 and 3, I juxtapose the respective approaches of Ginsberg and Didion in articulating the physiological experience of a depressive breakdown. Chapter 4 focuses on The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien, as a self-consciously constructed aesthetic autobiography: I show how "postmodernism" responds to representing the sensational body after the "death of the subject" and I argue for its affective possibilities. Finally, in chapter 5, I turn to graphic memoir, with Art Spiegelman's "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" and Darryl Cunningham's Psychiatric Tales: 11 Graphic Narratives of Mental Illness. I explore the formal strategies available to cartoonists in conveying the bodily affect of despair

  • Reclaiming Space: Buildings in Modernist Literature and Film

    Author:
    Sreenjaya Banerjee
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nico Israel
    Abstract:

    This dissertation argues that modernists like Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and Alain Resnais construct literary and filmic works that rely on interruptions and elliptical narration to gesture towards an aesthetics of modernity that counters the interest in monoliths concurrently shown by architectural modernism. This is particularly evident in the context of the war memorial, where regimented public memory is countered by the artistic works discussed through their emphasis on private memorials that are changeable, contingent, and mutable. This is a fundamentally altered vision of twentieth century modernity than that embraced by the architectural mode.