Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Good God but You Smart! A Study of Language Legitimacy in Cajun Louisiana

    Author:
    Nichole Stanford
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Rebecca Mlynarczyk
    Abstract:

    Good God but You Smart! is the first dissertation-length examination of the educational/linguistic assimilation of Cajuns, a minority ethnic group in Southwest Louisiana. The Louisiana constitution of 1921 banned Cajun French in schools, bringing the language to near-extinction today. Like other internally colonized groups, such as Mexican Americans and Hawaiian Americans, many Cajuns have been "Americanized" but still speak a mixed English that makes it possible for them to both participate in the U.S. economy and maintain a linguistic cultural identity. This newly emergent Cajun Vernacular English (CVE) has been the subject of much recent linguistics research, but studies show that Cajuns abandon CVE in relation to their attempts at upward mobility. In this study, I ask and seek to answer the question, "Why do upwardly mobile Cajuns comply with the disappearance of CVE?" Similar to Geneva Smitherman's explanation of Black English in Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America, I present CVE to the field of Composition and Rhetoric through the lenses of linguistics, sociolinguistics, history, current pedagogical theories on vernaculars, and cultural memoir. Though I chart pedagogical movements within the field, I use Pierre Bourdieu's theory of the legitimate language to focus on the forces outside classrooms that have compelled Cajuns to self-censor. The first two chapters provide a background for understanding the status of Cajuns at the time of their forced assimilation beginning in 1921. Chapter one examines current stereotypes and representations of Cajuns in U.S. pop culture, and chapter two backs up to explain the British ethnic cleansing of Acadians from present-day Canada and their subsequent class status when they regrouped under the name "Cajuns" in Louisiana. The next two chapters describe pedagogical responses to Cajun languages: chapter three reports from previously unpublished historical archives the physical and psychological punishments that children endured for speaking Cajun French, and chapter four reports new data from my own pedagogical survey of English teachers across four Louisiana colleges to explain and critique the strategy of code switching. Finally, in chapter five I hone in on the hegemonic pressures for Cajuns to self-censor coming from language myths and family normalizing practices.

  • "For the Voices": The Letters of John Wieners

    Author:
    Michael Stewart
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    American poet John Wieners is thoroughly disenfranchised from the modern poetic establishments because he is, to those institutions, practically illegible. He was a queer self-styled poète maudit in the fifties; a protégé of political-historical poet Charles Olson who wrote audaciously personal verse; a lyric poet who eschewed the egoism of the confessional mode in order to pursue the Olsonian project of Projective (outward-looking) poetics; a Boston poet who was institutionalized at state hospitals. Wieners lived on the "other side" of Beacon Hill, not the Brahmin south slope, but the north side with its working-class apartments and underground gay bars. Though Wieners' work is considered preeminent by many of the second half of the century's most important poets, the ahistoricizing process of literary canon-building has kept him at the fringes of not just the canon, but the established taxonomy of the all the great post-war undergrounds - the mimeo revolution, the San Francisco Renaissance, Black Mountain, New York, and Boston poetry communities that he moved through. Why was Wieners so disenfranchised? How can we make him manifest within the discourses of twentieth-century poetry? My dissertation, a comprehensively edited and annotated Selected Letters with a critical introduction situating Wieners and his correspondence, will provide Wieners' readers and literature scholars with an invaluable resource, an autobiography in letters. To quote the mission Duncan urged upon Wieners for his magazine Measure, these Selected Letters will be a "ground of work" for many different kinds of readers, with enough annotation and context for the most curious, but edited in such a way that it's Wieners himself one is reading, a direct address with minimal editorial intrusion. Wieners dedicated his second book, 1964's Ace of Pentacles, "for the voices," and that is the title I take for this collection - for all the voices in Wieners' world, within and contemporaneous with the poem. With these Selected Letters, we can see Wieners' growth as a poet and as a person, as he cycles through his different selves and relationships.

  • Common Knowledge: The Epistemology of American Realism

    Author:
    Mark Sussman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    My dissertation, Common Knowledge: The Epistemology of American Realism, focuses on realist fiction (primarily the novel) at the end of the nineteenth century. Its motivating claim is that the central descriptive and thematic imperative of realism--to depict life "as it is" rather than in some idealized form--emerged in response to crises in the status of knowledge that resulted from an attempt by writers and readers to come to a common understanding of the relationship between private experience and an increasingly fragmented social world. While William Dean Howells's definition of realism as a form of writing that displays "fidelity to experience and probability of motive" assumes a correspondence between writing and the real, my dissertation argues that realism's primary aesthetic achievement was its response to a pervasive sense of epistemological uncertainty. Accordingly, Common Knowledge engages the tensions embodied in interpenetrating depictions of social conflict and shared knowledge. On one hand, much recent scholarship has been devoted to demonstrating realism's commitment to documenting the intensified class conflict characteristic of the last decade of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, much scholarship has also been dedicated to portraying realism as an articulation of bourgeois gentility that remained largely ignorant of the stakes of such conflicts. In studies of the novels of Howells, Henry James, Harold Frederic, and Charles Chesnutt, I attempt to synthesize those two interpretations of American realism, preferring to read oscillations between social concern and reified class privilege as indications of a fundamental ambivalence about the reliability of social knowledge. Common Knowledge entwines readings of fiction with elaborations on the critical, technological, and aesthetic discourses of epistemological uncertainty that emerge from them, documenting how recognitions of socio-economic, racial, and ontological difference both rely on and throw into question the possibility of a shared knowledge of the world.

  • Committing to the Waves: Emerson's Moving Assignments

    Author:
    Karinne Syers
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    Committing to the Waves: Emerson's Moving Assignments reads Ralph Waldo Emerson as a writer of assignments for living and working whose senses can be taken up across a wide array of creative and exploratory fields. Shifting between an interdisciplinary array of contexts ranging from philosophy and poetics to dance, performance, and somatic movement experiments, I join the practical sense of creative inquiry embodied in these fields to the abstract images of Emerson's assignments. I argue that Emerson's descriptions of intelligence and power, and so his approaches to navigating skepticism and loss, as well as the non-possessive sense of what "self" actually means to this thinker of "self-reliance" can be illuminated by reading from the non-dualist perspective that embodied inquiry offers. The dissertation also enacts the self-reliance that Emerson calls for by taking up my response to Emerson through my sense of his assignments. The first half of this study uses this embodied work as a resource for reading Emerson, situating his sense in relation to extra-literary and extra-philosophical research. The second half of the dissertation makes a pivot, taking Emerson as a resource for performance assignments, first in the form of a chapter written with poetic constraints, which approaches the question of how philosophical commitments might animate theater and actual performance, and finally by following Emerson's instruction to the scholar to dive into her "privatest presentiments" to find where that privacy meets a public intelligence and intelligibility. The dissertation concludes with the documentation of Another Tree Dance, an original performance generated from that Emersonian private dive.

  • Ghostly Language and Liminal Experience: William Blake, Romantic Discourse on the Sublime, and American Punk Sound

    Author:
    Richard Tayson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Alan Vardy
    Abstract:

    Two modes of inquiry compel and gird this study. The first addresses the aesthetic and philosophical question of the Romantics' experimentation with sound and musical valuation. I observe a move away from a privileging of Lockean sight, and the fixed non-negotiable reality that it implies, in favor of a Romantic emphasis on sound, with its ability to incorporate the ineffable and the unknowable. The second line of inquiry concerns William Blake's influence on New York underground culture, first on Allen Ginsberg, and then on punk performer Patti Smith. Via his deployment of an obscure sublime soundscape coupled with dissenting politics, Blake has had an enormous effect, through Ginsberg, on the sonic experimentations of Smith. If a post-Enlightenment move occurred toward a poetics based on sonic possibilities, what Kevin Barry refers to as the "empty sign," I theorize that it began in 1757, the year of both Blake's birth and the first publication of Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. With its six sections on sound, Burke's text is poised at the tipping point of visual delimitation giving way to mysterious audition, and as such may be noted as possibly the earliest marker of the Romantic era. Thus, the aesthetic of the sublime as developed in Burke's Enquiry registers a shift from Lockean empiricism to Romantic irrationality rendered in sound. This shift may be noted in Blake's An Island in the Moon, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Tiriel, and The Four Zoas, which, when observed in the context of phonetic and discursive embodiments of sound, demonstrate an ever more potent sublime soundscape. I include Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement to further investigate the sonic modulations found in Blake, Ginsberg, and Smith. Subjective universality and the mathematical and dynamical sublime are of notable import in my investigation of the affective component of a listener's aesthetic engagement with voicings, echoes, harmonics, cacophony, and dissonance that allow for interrogation of inchoate, mysterious modes of being not readily accessed by denotative linguistic signs, but discovered in the empty signs of sublime sound.

  • Stimulating Texts: The Politics and Aesthetics of Arousal in Victorian Literature and Culture

    Author:
    Yevgeniya Traps
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    Stimulating Texts: The Politics and Aesthetics of Arousal in Victorian Literature and Culture deals with representations of sexual affect in mid- and late-nineteenth century English literature and culture. In considering this particular aspect of Victorian society, I propose that it would be profitable to go beyond the existing scholarly considerations of desire. Such considerations, I argue, are too broad, failing to account for specific processes by which bodies respond to stimuli. Rather than understand desire as a uniformly useful rubric for approaching sexuality in Victorian texts, I focus on the particular, often peculiar build up to desire, especially the intensely bodily experience of sexual sensation. Stimulating Texts carries out this investigation by reflecting on a number of formalist issues, also making use of psychoanalytic, queer, and reader-response theory. A study of how culture, both in its high and low, its written and visual iterations, becomes a vehicle for the transmission and the policing of sexual affect, this study looks at a number of well-known mid- and late-Victorian works: the sensation novels of Wilkie Collins and M.E. Braddon, Oscar Wilde's Salomé, and Bram Stoker's Dracula. I show that the Victorian construction of sexual arousal is simultaneously a canny bit of marketing to attract readers and an attempt to control how citizens' bodies respond to stimulation. Stimulating Texts explores the processes by which Victorian cultural productions stimulate readers and teach them how to properly channel that arousal. The texts I explore here defy a totalizing picture. Where arousal is presented as a transportive force in the sensation novel, it is also an ambiguous affect, with undertones of sexual and economic violence. In Salomé, arousal is ecstatically transformative but fatal. Wilde's princess defies her society and its stultifying model of desire, but she does not defeat them; instead, she is killed at play's end, crushed by those whose authority her unique passion undermines. And Dracula deploys the tropes of erotica and pornographic materials, even as the novel expresses profound horror at the power of arousal to override social niceties and middle-class respectability. All, however, are intimately concerned with the sexual impulse.

  • Independent Women: Black Women as Consumers in Literature Written from Slavery to the Harlem Renaissance

    Author:
    Tisha Ulmer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    This dissertation explores the role of consumerism in literature written by African-American women between 1861 and 1928. It consists of three chapters. Chapter One examines the birth of consumer culture in America and Benjamin Franklin's emergence as an exemplary American as it relates to the same. In this chapter I posit that Franklin was a model not only for European-Americans but also for African-Americans, as seen in the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. I argue that as an enslaved black woman, Harriet Jacobs reflected and revised the Franklin model and her revision of this model influenced the black female writers who followed her. Chapter Two is concerned with the emergence of Booker T. Washington as the prime mediator between American consumer culture and newly freed African-Americans. This chapter looks at how two black female writers, Ida B. Wells and Pauline Hopkins, responded to Washington, even as they reconfigured the Jacobs template. The final chapter places Nella Larsen's Quicksand within the context of America's blossoming consumer culture in the twentieth century and I argue that her rewriting of the Jacobs paradigm represents a breakthrough in depictions of black women's financial and relational autonomy.

  • Space & Distance As I Require: The Journals and Prose Fragments of Philip Whalen 1950-1966

    Author:
    Brian Unger
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Abstract Space & Distance As I Require: The Journals & Prose Fragments of Philip Whalen 1950 - 1966 by Brian Unger Adviser: Professor Ammiel Alcalay Space & Distance As I Require: The Journals & Prose Fragments of Philip Whalen 1950 - 1966 presents the early journals, prose fragments, and a few unpublished poems and essays by San Francisco Renaissance and Beat Generation poet Philip Whalen (1923-2002). This work includes a scholarly apparatus with both general literary and textual introductions, a critical bibliography that reflects my literary-historical concerns, brief section introductions, annotations, and an informal concordance with Whalen's poetry utilizing The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (ed. Rothenberg, 2007) as a reference work. Philip Whalen was an Irish-American writer with roots in small town Oregon, a poet who was, as Kenneth Rextroth once said, as intensely Northwestern in sensibility as the painters Morris Graves and Mark Tobey. Whalen was a poet of complex sources and influences, extraordinarily well-read in Elizabethan and 18th century English literature, in particular the satiric gestures of Sterne, Pope, Johnson, and Swift. During his lifetime Whalen produced a remarkable oeuvre of close to twenty collections of verse, twenty broadsides, two novels, eight or nine works of experimental prose, plus several dozen critical essays, lectures, commentaries, introductions, prefaces, and interviews, an extensive literary correspondence, and forty years of carefully written literary journals, ranging from roughly 1952 to 1992. Like two of his favorite 18th century novelists Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift, Whalen lived the second half of his life as an ordained cleric within a formal religious setting, a "new" religion for the West, Zen Buddhism, a spiritual tradition founded in India at least a thousand years before the birth of Christ. Whalen began his study of buddhism at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, having served in the Army Air Force as a radio repairman during the final years of WWII. At Reed Whalen's interest in Asian culture was encouraged and augmented by his roommate Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who blazed a circuitous trail around Ezra Pound, bypassing Fascism and Confucianism to forge a link between Zen Buddhism, Northwestern Wobblie unionism, and Marxist economic theory. He and Whalen remained close friends throughout Whalen's life. It was Snyder who probably first taught Whalen how to sit still in the Zen meditation posture, a fundamentally ungraspable, trans-rational, non-discursive, and deconstructive form of introspection that influenced Whalen's writing and played a decisive role in his poetics. Shortly after the landmark Six Gallery poetry reading in San Francisco in October, 1955 Snyder moved to Japan to study Zen, leaving Whalen to fend for himself in an apartment he shared in Berkeley with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The journals show that Whalen was clear but shy about his bisexuality. For a period of time he was deeply involved in a love triangle, or rather a pentangle, with two married people, one of them a man, the other Gary Snyder's wife, the poet Joanne Kyger. He remained in the U.S. during the late fifties and early to mid-1960s, a tumultuous six or seven years during which he was unable to support himself financially, alternatively couch-surfing with friends, habitating a shack in the woods on Mt. Tamalpais, bumming free rooms from friends in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Marin County. He also attempted a `straight' job and career in Newport, Oregon, and lived in San Francisco for over two years with his companion and lover Leslie Thompson. Finally, in February, 1966 - at Snyder's behest - Whalen moved to Japan. He taught English for a regular weekly salary in the ancient capital city of Kyoto, spending his spare time reading, writing, and studying Japanese culture, religion, art, theater, and literature. I am presenting here the poet's `pre-Kyoto' journals and fragments.

  • New York City Built by Words: Representation of Urban Space in New York City Novels, 1900-1945

    Author:
    Yuki Watanabe
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    New York City Built by Words explores the lesser-examined role of the built environment in representing urban spaces in modern New York City novels. This project reevaluates the often overlooked importance of the centrality of urban architecture in the genre by revisiting the "rag-to-riches" stories from the city's period of growth and by focusing on their use of skyscrapers as literary settings. This peculiar centrality is represented as a synthesis of the physical and non-material environment, and its development is traced from the turn of the century to the end of the World War II. The first chapter looks at Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900), a seminal text that establishes New York City as a new American metropolis in comparison to Chicago. It argues that Dreiser depicts New York's urban space as an urbanscape that exists between the ideal and materialistic environment, using tropes such as newspaper, theatre, and restaurants. The second chapter examines F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned (1922), "May Day" (1922), The Great Gatsby (1925), and "My Lost City" (1931). It shows how Fitzgerald establishes a peculiar urban space, dynamic and surreal, thereby Watanabe iv creating the image of a romantic city as a combination of physical and ideal environments throughout his New York novels. The third chapter pairs The Fleischer Brothers' animated feature Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) with Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (1943). While the former portrays individuals as dwarfed by the powerful physical and social forces of architecture associated closely with the capitalist culture, the latter depicts an architect's struggle to win over the changing urban space and finally implanting a static, permanent building, thereby defying the traditional representation of New York architecture that showed motion and change as its main features. The final chapter follows the contemporary development of the genre after the 9/11 terrorist attack, namely, by Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers (2004) and Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin (2008). It discusses how the traumatic experience affected views about urban architecture, and attempts to recover from the trauma took place in relation to the representation of skyscrapers.

  • Recollecting Turbulence: Catastrophe and Sacrifice in the History of My Life by Henry Darger

    Author:
    Carl Watson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joshua Wilner
    Abstract:

    This study of "The History of My Life" the 5,086 page autobiographical text by the outsider artist/author Henry Darger, uses non-linear modes of analysis, such as chaos and complexity theory, to explore the meaning of Darger's epic narrative. Beginning with the idea that turbulence, seemingly chaotic, actually comes about as a compensatory restructuring of inadequate or unstable system dynamics, this study goes on to show that, as both influence and effect, turbulence is found at every level of Darger's life and art, both in theme and structure. "My Life" is a prime example: an extended narrative describing a cataclysmic tornado, in which the text itself manifests turbulent properties of the storm it describes. Darger's particular narrative "madness" is, in fact, an attempt to put turbulence into service as an alternative system of meaning, in contrast to failed social and religious systems of which he was the product. Henry Darger's work provides us with the challenge of exploring new ways of finding meaning in narrative. This study uses traditional literary criticism coupled with a pattern analysis of redundancy to explore some of Darger's primary themes.