Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • SWAMP AESTHETICS: ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERIMENTS BY AMERICAN WOMEN FROM THE NINETEENTH TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

    Author:
    Cecily Parks
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    "Swamp Aesthetics" proposes a theory of the origins of swamp aesthetics in the works of four visionary American women writers--Emily Dickinson, Mary Austin, Gertrude Stein, and Susan Howe--whose non-linear, non-hierarchical texts reflect patterns to be found in that ambiguous and particularly American landscape feature, the swamp. This project delineates new parameters for what constitutes environmental writing from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, and places American women writers at its forefront, arguing that these authors find in the swamp a position from which to re-imagine the relationship between the American mind and the natural world.

  • The power of English and academic literacy: Students' perceptions and theoretical, political, and pedagogical implications. A case study of students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

    Author:
    Andrea Parmegiani
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    Abstract THE POWER OF ENGLISH AND ACADEMIC LITERACY: STUDENTS' PERCEPTIONS AND THEORETICAL, POLITICAL, AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS. A CASE STUDY OF STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU-NATAL By Andrea Parmegiani Adviser: Professor Steven Kruger My dissertation seeks to problematize widespread assumptions about language ownership in the context of post-apartheid South Africa, a country where English proficiency is a precondition for professional employment, political participation, and often, academic success, despite the fact that less than 10% of the population speaks English as a first language. My argument is based on a critical literature review and a case study. Chapter I provides an excursus on the fundamental conceptual tools of analysis (language, power, identity, and discourse) and is followed by a historical overview of how language and identity have been used to define and challenge power relations in South Africa. I discuss the discrepancy between South Africa's language policy and practice and I review the literature produced by theorists who have engaged in a critical discourse about the power of English. I show how the limitations of these theories can be ascribed to the "birthright paradigm," or a set of assumptions about language, power and identity that restrict language ownership to the native speakers of a language. I suggest an alternative model for understanding language ownership built on the assumption that additional languages can be fully appropriated. Chapter II discusses my research methodology, which comprises a questionnaire, ethnographic observations, and in-depth interviews. My research questions look at black South African students' language practices, their attitudes towards language ownership, and towards language policies. Chapter III presents my findings and Chapter IV discusses their epistemological, political, and pedagogical implications. Epistemologically, the assumptions of the birthright paradigm do not do justice to the complex socio-linguistic reality of black South Africans such as the students in my sample, who have taken ownership of English as an additional language in various ways. Politically, the birthright paradigm reifies the linguicist effects of English as a dominant language and the power of English to function as a proxy for race for maintaining inequality. Ironically, the birthright paradigm also impedes the promotion of marginalized indigenous languages. From a pedagogical point of view, questioning the birthright paradigm can help students exercise discursive ownership as they appropriate the dominant language.

  • The Over-Education of the Negro: Academic Novels, Higher Education and the Black Intellectual

    Author:
    Archie Porter
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    The Over-Education of the Negro: Academic Novels, Higher Education and the Black Intellectual by Archie Lavelle Porter Advisor: Robert Reid-Pharr This dissertation focuses on the academic novel - a literary genre which fictionalizes the lives of students and professors in institutions of higher education. In particular this project focuses on academic novels written by black writers and which address issues in black higher education. This dissertation has two concurrent objectives: 1) to examine the academic novel as a particular genre of literature, and to highlight some specific novels on black American identity within this genre, and 2) to illustrate the pedagogical value of academic fiction. Through the ancient practice of storytelling, academic novels link the travails of the individual student or professor to a bigger story about the history and origin and purpose of colleges and universities. The "Introduction" provides a basic overview of the academic novel, the black academic novel, and an analysis of the history of black higher education through discourses of over-education. Chapter One, "Toward a Theory of the Black Academic Novel," provides a literature review of criticism on academic fiction and makes connections with black literary criticism in order to create a framework for reading black academic novels. This chapter also includes a historical survey of black academic fiction leading up to the three novels in the following chapters, which were written after the 1980s, and which are framed by discussions of culture wars and capitalism. Chapter Two, "Culture Warriors" is an examination of Ishmael Reed's Japanese by Spring (1993) in the context of the "culture wars" and the development of multiculturalism in higher education. Chapter Three, "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong," examines Percival Everett's Erasure (2001) and the politics of authenticity in black literary and cultural production. Chapter Four, "Homo Academicus" is an interpretation of Samuel R. Delany's The Mad Man (1994:2002) as an academic novel, showing how the novel articulates a queer black intellectual practice as a challenge to discourses of respectability, particularly during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Conclusion speculates on the future, and possible obsolescence, of the novel (including the black academic novel) as a literary form, and the role of black intellectuals in the digital humanities.

  • "Fits of Vulgar Joy": Play Anxiety in the Romantic Poets

    Author:
    Alison Powell
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Yousef
    Abstract:

    "Fits of Vulgar Joy": Play Anxiety in the Romantic Poets considers the crucial but neglected role of play as a component of the imaginative faculty and as related to the development of moral sensibility in the Romantic era. It examines the Spieltrieb ("play drive") in the works of Coleridge, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Shelley, and John Clare to explore the tension between what is explicitly stated about the relationship between play, intersubjectivity, and aesthetics, and how play is actually depicted in the poetry and essays of the Romantic era. It works to identify how and with what objective the Romantics differentiated so minutely between play, fancy, imagination, and art, investigating the gravity with which the authors worked to parse these variances. Although the Romantics generally emphasized the influence of childhood on the development of poetic sensibility and heralded the role of "free play" in the imagination, I demonstrate that representations of ludic activity in Wordsworth's Prelude (1805), for example, indicates a deep ambivalence about the spontaneous, chaotic creative impulse typically called "play." The approach I use is fundamentally interdisciplinary and utilizes play theory, object relations, and the work of Kant, Gadamer, Plato, and Schiller. I also draw from a myriad of primary texts: in addition to readings of The Prelude (1805) and Shelley's "Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation," for example, I examine Rousseau's Emile, in which the destructive potential of play originates in childish vanity-- a paradigm which eerily parallels the English response to Rousseau's infamous reputation. Child's play within nature is acted out in John Clare's "The Progress of Ryhme" and Wordsworth's Boy of Winander through the mimicry of nightingale song and owls' hoots, respectively. Wordsworth uses the eventual death of the boy to mark the end of play and the beginning of poetry. In Clare's work, the poet is paralyzed in grief over his inability to retain that undirected creativity, that harmonious existence within the Helpston fields which marked his childhood. Finally, Shelley's "Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation" offers a departure from these more perplexed examples. Maddalo's daughter reveals the profundity of silent play, but to the comparative denigration of poetics. The Romantic paradox of play reveals itself in patterns in which effortless frivolity gives way to something more subversive or melancholy. Most often the ludic is inextricably tied to the adult poet's acknowledgement of his exile from nature and his own former, creative, aimless self. These changes are depicted as necessarily accompanying maturation, making possible one's entrance into society and the development of responsible citizenship. The Romantic texts which preoccupy this project collapse those elements which are determined antithetical to the process of maturation -- that which is hedonistic, chaotic, selfish, myopic, excessive-- and deliver it to the reader in the form of child's play.

  • Sympathetic Ink: Memoirs of Family Secrets

    Author:
    Molly Pulda
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    Derived from the Latin secernere, meaning "to separate, divide off," secrecy comprises a process of drawing relational distinctions -- a spectrum of communicative strategies to connect and separate. What secret keepers guard is not just the hidden content of a story, but its boundaries: where the private and the public intersect. This dissertation links family secrets in autobiography to contemporary political and cultural contexts, including the ethics of state secrecy, the relational stakes of genetic research, and shifting identity discourse in families, communities, and nations. It centers on the structuring effects of secrecy, for a secret's effects depend more upon its form -- how it is concealed and revealed -- than its content. I suggest that identity is comprised of what we don't know as much as what we know, and what we can't or won't tell about our loved ones as much as what we reveal. And secrecy is a form of communication that calibrates intimacy and distance in families and communities - including communities of readers. Readers are drawn into a narrative of family secrets by what I term its "mechanics of disclosure": the formal and relational strategies through which a memoirist reveals secrets. This study tracks the textual properties of secrecy through comparisons of memoirs by eight contemporary writers: Susan Cheever, Linda Gray Sexton, Bliss Broyard, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alison Bechdel, J. R. Ackerley, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Richard Rodriguez. Studying how families keep and share secrets sheds light on how other institutions consolidate power through practices of selective knowledge, secrecy, and disclosure. Just as a second generation can inherit a family secret -- through the hereditary properties of nescience, or unknown knowledge -- secrets can also be passed down from governments to citizens. Attention to the mechanics of revelation in autobiography provides a formal language to interpret how state secrets are concealed and revealed. A currency of power in any institution, secrets delineate a spectrum of control over not just information, but structures of communication. It is the craft of disclosure that makes secrets legible, and that paves the way for public acknowledgment of open secrets.

  • "As Long As She Cracks She Holds": Thoreau's Anticipation of Dying

    Author:
    Audrey Raden
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is the first full-length study to address Thoreau's ideas about death and dying. Death, for Thoreau, was an unnatural state, while dying was part of the cyclical course of nature. As he moves through nature's slow time, Thoreau is able to anticipate dying. Thoreau's transcendentalist use of time makes anticipating the seasons, and all changes in nature, a form of prophecy in the traditional sense, in that while the prophet is speaking, what he is prophesying is already happening in the eternal present. Anticipation itself becomes a form of prophecy, and ultimately what is anticipated is dying. In this sense, Thoreau is always prophysying dying while he experiences the living cycles of nature.

  • Skin Game: The Confidence Man and Nineteenth-Century American Literature

    Author:
    Margaret Robertson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    In the century and a half that has passed since the publication of Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man, the text has come to be regarded as the quintessential novel on the subject of confidence men and confidence games in mid-nineteenth-century America. Melville's confidence man, however, scarcely resembles the readily recognizable, fast-talking white flimflammer that twentieth- and twenty-first century readers have come to expect. By turns black or white, rich or poor, verbose or mute, greedy or charitable, Melville's confidence man -- indeed, the true confidence man of the nineteenth century -- proves a far more diverse and interesting subject. In this dissertation I argue that, for the most part, antebellum Americans did not make the same distinctions as modern scholars between white and black confidence men, but rather recognized them as players of the same game, a "skin game" in which actual skin had an important role to play. Evidence for this claim abounds: we find it in the discourse of the pseudosciences of phrenology and physiognomy, in the works of Melville and William Wells Brown, in the writings of proslavery novelists and public letters of abolitionists, and in the works of freemen and women, former slaves, and their descendants. These writers and thinkers were fascinated by the twin problems of race and confidence in equal measure, and were, moreover, inclined to equate these two problems with one another, a fact that has gone largely unexamined in literary scholarship. This dissertation strives to recover that lost connection and restore the confidence man to his rightful place at the heart of American racial discourse.

  • "WHEN WE WAS BOYS": tHE AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHY OF A SOUTH BRONX TEEN PROGRAM

    Author:
    John Rodriguez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Amiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    This dissertation concerns itself with the experiences of a six-year long poetry class at a South Bronx community center's teen program. In it I will be interweaving our writings, my teaching beliefs, South Bronx history, teenage code--dress and speech as well as poetry-specific written/performed code, and my own particular historical narrative as poet/scholar in comparison to my students' in an attempt to decipher and represent access, or lack thereof, to poet/scholar identity. This is my attempt, actually, to analyze what it means and what it takes to define oneself as a poet for young Bronx minority public school students. This will serve to exemplify the role poetics (can) play in developing and expanding the critical consciousness proponents of composition and education believe formal schooling promotes when even a cursory look at racial and ethnic backgrounds of college graduates and high school dropouts obviously proves how rarely minority students survive formal education and how infrequently they take up a place in the halls of the academy's ivory tower.

  • Provisional Fictions: Discontinuous Selves and the Making of Meaning

    Author:
    Tara Roeder
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Meena Alexander
    Abstract:

    My project is an exploration of trauma-based meaning-making practices and reader response across a variety of sites. By teasing out some of the complex connections among trauma, narrative, and audience that may occur in spaces ranging from non-linear memoir to courtroom testimony to the writing classroom, I engage with the inherently dialogic nature of making meaning from trauma, and examine some of the ways in which women who engage in recursive, embodied rhetorical practices can productively disrupt conventional expectations of the function of trauma narratives. Chapter One examines the formal, linguistic, and philosophical choices made by women memoirists who challenge the parameters of traditional narrative structure in order to forge their own paths through contested issues of history, memory, and the body. Chapter Two focuses on the public discourses surrounding stories of sexual assault, using reader response theory to explore the possibilities available to witnesses who wish to resist the ways in which the rhetoric of the courtroom can circumscribe responses to sexual assault narratives in multiple forms, from memoir to testimony to mainstream media coverage. Chapter Three explores the interpretive possibilities for readers of trauma based narrative offered by non-oedipal psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi, who meaningfully revised Freud's analytic approach to trauma victims by stressing the need for empathy and active witnessing on behalf of the analyst. Chapter Four delves into the realm of pedagogy, seeking to demonstrate through the use of narrative practice some of the ways in which assignment design and modes of response can aid in facilitating ethical and empathetic pedagogical interactions that may resonate both in and beyond the composition classroom. I am ultimately invested in illuminating the role that both genre and the body have in the construction of non-linear trauma narratives, as well as the role community plays in re-thinking the linear reading practices often privileged in response to such narratives in light of the work of innovative writers and theorists who challenge such practices in their own projects.

  • Embodied Politics: Crowds in Late Nineteenth American Fiction

    Author:
    Justin Rogers-Cooper
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I examine descriptions and representations of politically excited crowds in selected nineteenth century American fiction from the Civil War to the turn of the century. I argue that these depictions of crowds provide new opportunities for addressing theoretical concerns about collective agency and political action in contemporary accounts of Marxist informed literary scholarship. In particular, the dissertation turns to the political and ethical philosophies of Benedict de Spinoza to emphasize the importance of thinking collective agency through embodied politics. With Spinoza's concept of affect in mind, I assert that we can best understand the collective cognition of crowd behavior in the selected fiction by reframing our interpretative strategies toward theories that develop models of bodily intelligence. To this end, the dissertation offers a new genealogy for the study of crowds that primarily attends to the fiction of Martin R. Delany, Charles Chesnutt, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Frank Norris. It it also introduces new theoretical perspectives through intensive readings of texts on group psychology, animal behavior, religious ecstasy, financial crisis, and social emotions. I imagine here a radical ambiguity about the potential for crowd behavior to become a sovereign force for collective action, but I contend that crowd sovereignty is powerful because assemblages of bodies have the capacity to act in the name of life and death through excited expressions of synchronized gestures and symbolic production.