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Knowing Children/Children Knowing: Nineteenth-Century British Child Law and Literature
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Why are nineteenth-century literary narratives filled with children’s accounts of bad parents, dead parents, absent parents, and surrogate parents? What are the origins of our current preoccupation with children as evidenced, for example, in Ian McEwan’s new novel, The Children Act; New York State’s recent amendments to the name and role of “Attorney for the Child”; and today’s vehement debates over parenting styles? The mid-nineteenth century was a period of intense preoccupation with “the child”: it engendered family law; it generated an explosion of representations of children in art and literature; and it witnessed the beginnings of the scientific study of childhood. Knowing Children/Children Knowing: Nineteenth-Century British Child Law and Literature pursues the relatively uncharted relation between nineteenth-century Anglo-American child law reform and Victorian literary representations of childhood and childhood consciousness, arguing that this relation is the origin of our present concerns. Examining issues of childhood and personhood, freedom, and choice, and using primary literary, legal, and historical sources, I argue that novelists and autobiographers used changes in the law as a creative opportunity, engaging legal debates about children in their plots, in their forms, and in their portrayals of childhood. These narratives, when read in their historical context, mark a change in the understanding and representation of childhood that anticipate contemporary thinking about child welfare. Correlatively, these historical roots give us a lens through which to see and understand formal literary invention. This project begins to fill a gap in the disciplinary intersection of Victorian family law and literature. In a 2007 Victorian Literature and Culture review of law and literature criticism, Simon Petch proclaimed that “Victorian Studies seems to have gained very little from the Law and Literature movement,” because of the movement’s narrow focus on a handful of texts. Much law and literature criticism has two main issues: it is oftentimes ahistorical and, as Petch points out, it treats “literature” as “culture.” For example, Kieran Dolin’s work is based on his assumption that law, like literature, is a fiction. Ian Ward, writing “as a member of the legal academy,” notes that the “‘law and literature’ movement has been nurtured in the main, from within this academy,” and challenges literary scholars to take up this relationship. Although there has been work on divorce law in the nineteenth century and much work done on “the child” by literary critics, these two are rarely considered together: custody law is most often viewed as a by-product of divorce reform and understood primarily as an expansion of a wife's rights developed by Victorian suffragism. Likewise, in this context, literary representations of the child are often treated as part of the marriage and/or divorce plot or of “the woman question.” I present an alternative history, arguing that literary treatments of the child are primary and generative: the child is not secondary to these other plots but offers us another plot entirely. Child-centric literature participates in new ways of thinking about and structuring families and new ways of organizing narrative form. Maintaining the differences between legal and literary discourses, I read a reciprocal relationship between law and literature concerning children: child-centric literature is both influenced by child law and influences child law. As the law recognized that children have a voice and that childhood interests exist, literature gave expression to the child’s voice and interests. The history of custody law shows us that there is a rhetoric of personhood that developed with specific applications to childhood, which has to do both with the child as such, as well as with the symbolic nature of the child as a figure of fundamental human being-ness. At the same time that the law acknowledged childhood subjectivity, it also considered children as dependents and in need of protection. In response, the court became parens patriae—literally, “parent of the nation”—displacing biological parents. By the early twentieth century the conception of the child changed from that of an object of possession to (paradoxically) that of an object in need of guardianship who is also a subject: as a result, children’s lives became regulated by the state more than by their parents. The literary works I am examining have a stake in making adults understand the child’s perspective and, in doing so, invite the reader to use this as the key to understanding one’s own development. Childhood became necessary; it needed to be protected and managed because it was essential in formulating personhood in both real and symbolic ways. As such, childhood is a crucial component of modern identity itself.
SWAMP AESTHETICS: ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERIMENTS BY AMERICAN WOMEN FROM THE NINETEENTH TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
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"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
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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
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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
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"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
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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
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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.
The American Aspasia: The Woman Lecturer in American Women's Rights Fiction, 1839-1915
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This dissertation is the first comprehensive study of the figure of the woman lecturer/speaker that appeared in American women's rights fiction in the period between 1839 and 1915. I argue that examining the figure of the woman lecturer/ speaker in a wide variety of texts and over an extended period of history reveals that the figure served as a dynamic vehicle for women writers to advance a broad range of social and political interests; writing in a social and historical context that discouraged women's participation in public speech, women authors used fiction as a rhetorical space to articulate different visions of political and social rights. Moreover, as this dissertation explores, the genre of fiction offered women writers a set of rhetorical tools through which they were able to communicate their ideas to a diverse--and, at times, hostile--audience; for some of the authors of women's rights fiction, the genre also served as a canvas for aesthetic expression of their voices. I situate a close reading of the fictional texts in the greater social and cultural history of the period to illuminate the ways in which the individual authors engaged with their cultural moment, as well as to suggest that variances in the representations of the woman lecturer/speaker reflected the authors' individual aesthetic and political interests. This research reveals that "women's rights" were interpreted broadly by women during the period, encompassing property rights, labor rights, custody rights, access to health care and education, and influence over temperance laws, in addition to women's suffrage. The texts discussed include Sarah J. Hale's The Lecturess, Laura Curtis Bullard's Christine, Lizzie Boynton Harbert's Out of Her Sphere, Mary Clemmer Ames's Eirene, or a Woman's Right, Lillie Devereux Blake's Fettered for Life, Louisa May Alcott's Work, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Silent Partner, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's The Portion of Labor, Marietta Holley's Samantha on the Woman Question, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's What Diantha Did.
Skin Game: The Confidence Man and Nineteenth-Century American Literature
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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
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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.