Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • 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 si├Ęcle 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.

  • Common Sense: The Rise of Narrative in the Age of Self-Evidence

    Author:
    Carrie Shanafelt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Richter
    Abstract:

    This dissertation describes the role that eighteenth-century British popular fiction played in the development of "common sense" rhetoric as an appeal to a normative, imagined community. The transformation of common sense from its classical sense, as an internal faculty that organizes sensory perception into cognition, into a normative rhetorical device occurred across a period of time in which the destabilizing effects of social upheaval during the seventeenth century gave way to the normative pressure of the rise of the public sphere in the form of a burgeoning print culture. Imagined communities of public readers are the inventions of texts that employ a self-reflexive rhetorical strategy of common-sense rhetoric. This strategy offers the reader the satisfaction of belonging to a normative, imagined community of readers through consensus with the moral conclusions drawn from a realistic narrative, which the author insists is already familiar to the "normal" reader from experience. Although this rhetorical strategy first appears in epistemological and moral philosophy of the early eighteenth century, it is greatly impacted by the aesthetic developments of realistic fiction of the mid-eighteenth century, especially in fictional representations of sexual desire and morality. Common Sense: The Rise of Narrative in the Age of Self-Evidence examines the relationships between the philosophical prose of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume and the literary and critical prose of Samuel Johnson, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding. It explores the role of normative imagined communities of readers in sexually explicit literature of the eighteenth century, as well as in critical, religious, and literary responses to these texts. The final chapter analyzes the challenges to epistemologically and morally normative rhetoric raised by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy. Each of these texts demonstrates its author's unique conceptions of the imagined reader, individual subjectivity, and the possibility of establishing epistemological consensus through shared narratives of experience. Rather than attempting to describe the imagined public as containing a subset of actual historical readers, this dissertation explores a variety of rhetorical representations of the imagined reader in eighteenth-century British texts in order to compare experimental uses of narrative in philosophy, fiction, and literary criticism.

  • The Rhetoric of Future Harm: Representations and Figurations of the Child in Contemporary American Discourses of Catastrophe

    Author:
    Rebekah Sheldon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    My objective in this project is to draw attention to the frequency with which the figure of the child appears in representations of catastrophe and to map out the causes and consequences of that association. The Rhetoric of Future Harm is thus a rhetorical and tropological study of the child as a figure in contemporary discourse. In what follows, I will propose that the child-figure condenses fears about the human future. A longstanding figure in American culture, the child in contemporary representations of catastrophe, I contend, captures and contains the energies of change, transforming them into anxious fantasies of harm. In particular, I look at representations and rhetorics that bring the child's economy of meanings to bear on the threatened human future. I argue that the deep and pervasive anxiety about the future of the human discloses the apprehension of complexity. I find in this apprehension the nascent recognition of further futures and new forms for a post-humanity and a post-humanism. The child-figure is thus a deeply ambivalent attempt to harness, capture and control, the movements of the future and the meanings of life-itself. The Rhetoric of Future Harm investigates four intensively invested sites where life-itself takes the face of the child: the rhetoric of urgency employed by popular environmentalism; the individuation of life characteristic of rescue narratives and reproductive futurism; the sacralization of the human world in post-apocalypses, and the cultivation of regimes of meaning in literary theory. The middle two chapters, "Rescue and Reproductive Futurism" and "Redemptive Catastrophes and Metaphysical Materialisms" conduct close studies of single novels, Joanna Russ's feminist SF novel We Who Are About To... (1973) in the second chapter and Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road (2006) in the third. Taken together these chapters represent a sustained investigation of the metaphysics of the child under conditions of ecological threat. The first and last chapters, "Eco-Catastrophe and the Queer Matter of the Future" and "Life Matters Beyond the Child," look at the distributions of the rhetoric of the child in non-fictional discursive domains.

  • Precarious Wife: Narratives of Marital Instability in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

    Author:
    Emily Sherwood
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mario DiGangi
    Abstract:

    Precarious Wife intervenes in the propagation of the binary--of privilege and marginalization--inherent in discussions of the institutional identity of wife in the medieval and early modern periods by exposing the vulnerability and malleability of the category often ignored or minimized in discussions of pre-modern women. Drawing on Judith Butler's work on vulnerability, this dissertation questions the normative trajectory of daughter, wife, widow for medieval and early modern women that excludes people with alternate narratives or identities. While men's subjectivity spanned multiple identities based on their class, rank, career, religious practices, community, and networks of kinship, women were almost exclusively defined in relation to a male authority. The limitation of "wife" as the lens through which we discuss medieval and early modern women requires critique. Despite cultural expectations of social cache and stability that marriage was presumed to afford, many wives found themselves in precarious conditions because of their marital status. By continuing to view wifehood as the primary and desirable classification for women, modern scholars risk re-inscribing cultural narratives of the idealized good wife while overlooking how women appropriated the narrative for their own ends in order to combat the vulnerability, coercion, and violence that they faced due, in part, to the expectations of deference that defined the role of good wife. By attending to the instability of marriage and uncovering the permeability of conjugal relationships, this dissertation analyzes what happens to women who lose their connection to their central male authority: their husbands. In doing so, this project refutes the notion that "wife" was a stable and knowable category sufficient to define women by showing that it was partial, at best, and ideologically inscribed, at worst.

  • Repetition and Remediation in Richard Powers, Shelley Jackson, and Oshii Mamoru

    Author:
    HYEWON SHIN
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    In Remediation (1999), Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin maintain that the novelty of new media results from its simulation of the formal characteristics found in older media. While this concept envisions divergent historical pathways for media, it risks falling into solipsism without drawing clear chronological borders. Moreover, the logical self-reproduction found in the rhetoric of new media is similar to postmodernism's predicament in challenging History and Modernity, which places new media in the broader context of postmodernist interrogations of origin, rupture, and genealogy. If, as with Modernity, new media at its core questions its own foundation as constituted by the opposition of old and new and rupture versus continuity, what is the value of remediation as the foremost theory of new media in conceptualizing Modernity's contradictions and imagining its exterior? Interrogating the assumption of remediation, this dissertation investigates the transformation of one medium through its appropriation of another medium's formal aesthetics, illustrated in Richard Powers's novel Plowing the Dark (2000), Shelley Jackson's hypertext fiction Patchwork Girl (1995), and Oshii Mamoru's digital animation Ghost in the Shell (1995). I argue that these authors' explorations of the representational limits of their chosen medium through remediation give rise to the value of repetition and renewal, differing from the solipsism demonstrated by new media discourse. I also suggest that the "origins" of art forms--novel, hypertext, and animation--can be obscured through their complex relationships with earlier genres and forms. This dissertation examines Powers's juxtaposition of poetry and virtual reality, facilitation of the printed novel's reformation through conjuring a digital environment, and adoption of the unusual second-person singular point of view to induce readers' immersion into the text. My study of Jackson's hypertext rewriting of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) reveals how the original novel's use of the epistolary format prefigures the interactive storytelling in Jackson's work. Finally, I delve into Oshii's use of nonperspectival vision simulating Japanese graphic novel, cinema, and Eastern landscape painting, demonstrating alternative spatiotemporal relations to those of Renaissance optics and perspectival realism.