Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Sympathy with the Devil: Ethics and Genre in Apartheid and Post-Apartheid South Africa

    Author:
    Lily Saint
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    Sympathy with the Devil considers textual and visual cultures in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa to examine how practices of reading and "ways of seeing" contributed to the formation of ethical relation during a period largely characterized by the absence of ethics. It focuses on reading populations generally underexamined in studies of reader response and ethical criticism, arguing that this neglect reinforces hegemonic discourses of cultural production and consumption that overprivilege the responses of certain types of readers to certain types of textual objects. By focusing on readers in positions of subjection and exploitation who consume a wide variety of textual and visual genres, Sympathy with the Devil seeks to carve out a place in the study of audience and reader reception that recognizes the ethical importance of all acts of reading. While a reader's subject position determines her ethical response, the form and content of what she reads also influences this. If reading instantiates ethical being, the ethos summoned forth varies according to the form or genre of the text itself. While most work on the relationship between literature and ethics considers the production of ethical being through the pages of so-called "high" literature, little has been done to examine how popular culture and other reading materials also do this. Thus I consider various genres of culture production, including passbooks, photocomics and testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as novels, short stories, and memoirs. The dissertation accordingly reevaluates the role of popular culture in the formation of ethical consciousness. Despite the preponderance of philosophical and theoretical scholarly work examining the nature of the ethical, this study concludes that subjectivities characterized by oppression rather than by privilege are more conducive to the conditions of possibility that give rise to ethical consciousness and ethical action.

  • The Masses Are Revolting: Victorian Culture and the Aesthetics of Disgust

    Author:
    Zachary Samalin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    The Masses Are Revolting makes two overarching claims about the interrelation of disgust and aesthetics in Victorian culture and literature. First, I place the Victorian novel's focus on the newly repulsive conditions of British society in dialogue with the privileged position Enlightenment aesthetics afforded to the disgusting as the antithesis of the beautiful. An object which disgusts cannot be aesthetically pleasing, the story goes, since it is felt to be as repulsive in art as in nature. Traditional aesthetics thus prohibited the disgusting from artistic and literary composition, because it was thought to overflow the representational frame and preclude disinterested judgment. Through close readings of works by Charlotte Brontë, John Ruskin, Thomas Hardy, and George Gissing, I argue that Victorian literary texts, to the contrary, took this boundary confusion between disgusting representations and disgusting realities as a point of departure, and so broke much more sharply with the 18th and early 19th century discourse of taste and beauty than has conventionally been acknowledged. Second, while emphasizing this disconnect between Victorian literary practice and aesthetic theory, I also examine the unprecedented importance that Victorians afforded to disgust as a public and political passion, focusing in individual chapters on the complex roles that disgust played in Victorian medicine, physiology, obscenity law, and sanitation. In a chapter surveying the documentation of the 1858 Great Stink of London, for example, I argue that the Victorian rhetoric of social revulsion produced in the wake of the sewage crisis derived from the Enlightenment discourse of aesthetic judgment. Thus, while Victorian literature industriously flouted the aesthetic prohibition of the disgusting, industrial society absorbed it.

  • Reading Films: Words on the Silent Screens of American Cinema

    Author:
    Galina Savukova
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mary Ann Caws
    Abstract:

    In spite of frequent appearances of words on the cinematic screen, contributions of written language are often ignored or marginalized in discussions of film language. I investigate why verbal text is employed in the distinctly visual medium of film and how screen words function within the frames and on the fringes of a cinematic composition. The micro-level of analysis, the focus of the first chapter, highlights potentialities of word and image interplay within the pictorial space. On the macro-level of analysis, in the second chapter, the discussion of written language in film is situated in the context of narrative structures, cinematic tradition, authorship and ownership, and the relation to the audience. I categorize screen words into five kinds: 1) title sequences and end credits, 2) intertitles, 3) subtitles, 4) integrated verbal elements, and 5) words as the only images on the screen. Within the five categories, I outline types and functions of written language, as applicable to silent and sound films. My primary concern, however, is with the verbal-visual angle of interpretation, so I limit the scope of my detailed investigations in the third and fourth chapters to silent films. I zoom in on the screen words in select American films—of the pre-sound era and of the post-World-War-II avant-garde. In the third chapter, the verbal practices of the first two decades of American cinema are illustrated with films created by the Thomas A. Edison Company. The written language use in the late teens and twenties is analyzed in the context of comedies directed by John Emerson and Buster Keaton and of Cecil B. DeMille's dramas. I also explore contributions of screen words to several silent avant-garde films of the late twenties and early thirties. In the fourth chapter, I focus on the verbal text of the silent creations of Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton, the filmmakers whose approaches to language in film, although formulated in the same climate of discourses about the politics of language, are diametrically opposed. The dissertation concludes with a functional typology of screen words.

  • Reading Films: Words on the Silent Screens of American Cinema

    Author:
    Galina Savukova
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mary Ann Caws
    Abstract:

    In spite of frequent appearances of words on the cinematic screen, contributions of written language are often ignored or marginalized in discussions of film language. I investigate why verbal text is employed in the distinctly visual medium of film and how screen words function within the frames and on the fringes of a cinematic composition. The micro-level of analysis, the focus of the first chapter, highlights potentialities of word and image interplay within the pictorial space. On the macro-level of analysis, in the second chapter, the discussion of written language in film is situated in the context of narrative structures, cinematic tradition, authorship and ownership, and the relation to the audience. I categorize screen words into five kinds: 1) title sequences and end credits, 2) intertitles, 3) subtitles, 4) integrated verbal elements, and 5) words as the only images on the screen. Within the five categories, I outline types and functions of written language, as applicable to silent and sound films. My primary concern, however, is with the verbal-visual angle of interpretation, so I limit the scope of my detailed investigations in the third and fourth chapters to silent films. I zoom in on the screen words in select American films—of the pre-sound era and of the post-World-War-II avant-garde. In the third chapter, the verbal practices of the first two decades of American cinema are illustrated with films created by the Thomas A. Edison Company. The written language use in the late teens and twenties is analyzed in the context of comedies directed by John Emerson and Buster Keaton and of Cecil B. DeMille's dramas. I also explore contributions of screen words to several silent avant-garde films of the late twenties and early thirties. In the fourth chapter, I focus on the verbal text of the silent creations of Stan Brakhage and Hollis Frampton, the filmmakers whose approaches to language in film, although formulated in the same climate of discourses about the politics of language, are diametrically opposed. The dissertation concludes with a functional typology of screen words.

  • The Specter of Art in the American Business Novel: 1885-1917

    Author:
    Mark Schiebe
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mark Schiebe
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is an examination of the interconnection between aesthetics and business practice as it is imagined in the work of American novelists during the final decade and a half of the nineteenth century and the first decade and a half of the twentieth. Through a reading of novels about businessmen composed during the years when "men of commerce" first received wide fictional representation, The Specter of Art in the American Business Novel explores the network of values connoted by the terms "business" and "art," and finds a secretly shared vocabulary existing alongside the recognized antagonisms between activities commonly thought to comprise opposing poles of cultural heroism. Appropriating as a structuring allegory the fateful encounter between the expatriate artist and his ghostly "American" businessman double in Henry James's "The Jolly Corner," I argue that novelists such as Mark Twain, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and Abraham Cahan perform acts of self-analysis, even exorcism, through the imaginative creation of what cultural historian Henry Nash Smith called the "capitalist hero." In this study, I draw on fin de siècle debates about the gold standard, the role of the immigrant in shaping capital/labor relations, and the tie between American "masculinity" and the (vanishing) western frontier; I re-assess powerful contemporary statements such as Thorstein Veblen's theory of the businessman as a parasite of production and Andrew Carnegie's apology for the capitalist "superman" on Darwinian grounds; and I argue for an emerging parallel between literary and financial practices in an era when the "speculative economy," one dominated by the manipulation of representations of land, natural resources, and the products of industry, eclipsed an older model based on production as an end in itself.

  • Waste Matters: Expenditure and Waste Management in 20th- and 21st-Century Poetics

    Author:
    Christopher Schmidt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines how waste, in its various literal and metaphorical manifestations, has influenced 20th- and 21st-century arts and letters. In our current moment of environmental crisis, the urgency of this inquiry is pressing. "Waste Matters," however, is guided by a belief that before we demonize waste in the current millennium, we need first to understand its decisive influence on the art and life practices of the previous century. In chapters devoted to Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Andy Warhol, and conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith, I examine how these artists resist and reflect the pressures of consumer capitalism, with its conflicting emphases on efficiency and disposability, as well as the anal sublimations that typically govern artistic creation. Waste is a broad category, encompassing not just the waste matter of garbage and excrement, but also the wasted and unprofitable effort that poetry represents. The artists I consider express such slippage in their work. Problems of artistic production--Am I blocked? Do I produce too much?--become problems of bodily consumption and elimination. In the dissertation's first chapter, I suggest that Stein's relationship to the literary market is reinscribed in her obsession with Alice B. Toklas's digestive habits. In manuscripts she left Toklas to type, Stein often interleaved love notes entreating the costive Toklas to produce a "cow"--identified elsewhere as "an elegant name for stool." The intimacy and queerness of this traffic between the body and writing--as well as its intimations of a boundary-disturbing sexuality--highlights the pressing relevance of sexuality to my study. Because queer desires are often figured as unregenerative, and homosexuality itself an index of "spoiled identity," the queer artist's engagement with waste may be especially identificatory and profound. In this study I argue that the self-consciousness of poetic language, animated by a tension between formal constraint and linguistic excess, offers an especially acute measure by which to gauge the impact of waste on the aesthetic economy. (I define poetics broadly to include experimental writing which, in its self-consciousness and formal innovation, approaches the condition of poetry; Andy Warhol's talk-novel a is one such work.) Discussing poetry's resistance to market pressures, James Longenbach has described poetic form as a way of "keeping down production." Accordingly, I consider New York School poet James Schuyler's "skinny poem" form as a method of waste management, in which the poet controls bodily and cultural excess through poetic constraint and camp recuperation (particularly in Andrew Ross's materialist definition of camp as a "rediscovery of history's waste"). Other figures in my study, however, flout traditional models of poetic orderliness, instead crafting monuments to waste-making. Both Stein and Ashbery, for example, are profligate not only in their dazzling rates of productivity, but in their promiscuous uses of language; their works often exceed our abilities to assimilate them to paraphrase. Goldsmith is even more direct in his waste-making agenda. Basing his poetics on Warhol's factory model of production, Goldsmith repurposes cultural ephemera through slavish transcription, a practice he tellingly calls "uncreative writing." By miming capitalist production, without the corresponding profit, Goldsmith's work makes evident the gap between a poetic economy and a market-driven one. Poetry, however, as it situated athwart typical channels of currency and exchange, possesses one advantage over capitalism of being able to recuperate waste as value--a recuperation with potential relevance to our current ecological crisis.

  • Violation and Volition: Representations of the Molested Boy in the Post-War Gay Novel

    Author:
    Jason Schneiderman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation considers representations of molested boys in the postwar American gay novel. It argues that gay novelists between the end of World War II and the early 2000s created a new genre, a kind of anti-bildungsroman of the molested boy. In this genre, the molested boy is presented as being on a trajectory toward an adult subjectivity that is withheld, missing, or incoherent. The genre arose as a narrative strategy to resist a dominant discourse of homophobia that conflated child molesting with gay adulthood.. Gay authors disrupted that conflation by refusing adult portrayal of the molested boys. The narrative emphasis of these novels is on the boys rather than on their future selves. In refusing the eschatology of adulthood, these novels insist on the boys as full and imminent beings, rather than proto-adults. The logic of recovery and healing is rejected as obscuring and devaluing the boyhood experience. The introduction traces the genealogy of pedophiles and boy lovers in the later twentieth century, concluding that mainstream gay activism has done more for gay youth than organizations like NAMBLA. Chapter One considers Truman Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms, a novel which ends when the boy protagonist enters adulthood, and James Baldwin's Just Above My Head, in which the molested boy experiences an incoherent adulthood. Chapter Two considers Samuel R. Delany's Hogg and Dennis Cooper's Try, both novels about boy protagonists whose survival depends on their continued sexual availability to the adults around them. Chapter Three begins by examining how Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin suspends adulthood through an extended adolescence; it concludes by showing that Michael Lowenthal's Avoidance can portray both the molested boy and his adult self because homonormativity has redrawn the boundaries of public and private. The conclusion reiterates the arguments of the dissertation through the lens of abjection.

  • Genetic Revolutionaries: American Socialism, the Russian Revolution, and the Invention of the Radical Immigrant, 1886-1920.

    Author:
    Jesse Schwartz
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the American response to socialist politics in general and the Russian Revolution in particular during the titular period. I argue that Gilded-Age anti-radicalism followed by Progressive-Era anti-communism act as a discursive crucible that irrevocably links the two figures of the radical and the immigrant, manufacturing a forced association between particular ethnicities and specific political forms. While immigrants to the US had long been blamed as carriers of biological contagions, socialism in the late nineteenth century would soon be characterized as a social disease in the American imaginary, one that "naturally" infected lesser minds from Central and Eastern Europe, and could then be transmitted to "native" constitutions that betrayed their own weakness simply by the act of adopting radical views. Through readings of contemporaneous literature from authors such as William Dean Howells, Jack London, and John Reed, as well as analyses of concordant reportage and jurisprudential decisions, this study argues that conceptions of a "politics in the blood" not only offered ballast to harsh anti-immigration policies but also generated a contradictory population of "indigenous foreigners" alongside the immigrants themselves, a "counterpublic" rendered un-American purely for their political views. Aided by post-bellum racial categories, new forms of political representation, unprecedented waves of immigration, and the helixing of legislation with the new sciences of anthropometrics, the frightening figure of this "radical immigrant" would abet an increasingly centralized American government in the transition from a discourse of empire in the late nineteenth century to one of anti-communism in the early twentieth, producing contours of contact that still obtain.

  • In the Butcher Shop of Subjectivity: Autobiographical Works from the Black Liberation Movement, 1970-1987

    Author:
    Ramsey Scott
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    Through an examination of autobiographical works by imprisoned members of the Black Liberation Movement who were targeted by illegal government counterintelligence campaigns, "In the Butcher Shop of Subjectivity" argues for a realignment of the field of contemporary American literature. This realignment must incorporate the massive expansion of the American prison regime, perhaps the most nation's most critical historical development of the past fifty years. In exploring the qualities that the autobiographies examined herein share with developments in the field of critical theory and avant-garde poetry, this study suggests that critiques of the prison regime offered in Black Liberationist works provide crucial analyses otherwise missing from contemporaneous and more well-known works of American writing. In particular, the political claims made by the "language regime" in American letters--language-based schools of critical theory and language-focused movements within experimental American poetry and prose--are examined as prototypes for a culture of ignorance that has aided and abetted the widespread imprisonment of America's most vulnerable citizens.

  • Divided Men: The Masculinity/Marriage Dilemma in the Novels of George Eliot

    Author:
    Danny Sexton
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Anne Humpherys
    Abstract:

    Studies of Victorian masculinities have been primarily concerned with how men defined and were defined within the public sphere. This limited focus has ignored their private and domestic lives, itself an exemplification of the separate sphere theory. This dissertation explores what I called the masculinity/ marriage dilemma, a situation in which men feel that they must choose between a public life and a private one. George Eliot's male characters are divided, feeling themselves pulled in what they perceived as two different routes towards manhood. Related to this predicament are issues of power, particularly between men and women, men and other men, and within men themselves. One of the misconceptions that most of George Eliot's male characters share is that masculinity is fixed and secure. However, she continually challenges this view, demonstrating that ideas of masculinities are always changing and unstable. Her novels, beginning with Adam Bede (1859) and ending with Daniel Deronda (1876), present a new set of external and internal circumstances that force her male characters to reconsider the ways of being a man. While some stubbornly persists on old ways, others emerge as “ new men. ” Regardless of whether these characters succeed or fail, George Eliot reveals that male lives are both intricate and multilayered.