Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • 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.

  • The Paradox of Holocaust Humor: Comedy That Illuminates Tragedy

    Author:
    Alice Solomon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Morris Dickstein
    Abstract:

    Abstract THE PARADOX OF HOLOCAUST HUMOR: COMEDY THAT ILLUMINATES TRAGEDY by Alice M. Solomon Adviser: Professor Morris Dickstein The use of humor in Holocaust art has provoked fervent debate. On one side are those who denounce it in the belief that it misrepresents the event and disrespects its victims. On the other side are those who believe that humor, especially in its darkest form, is uniquely suited to the representation of an event so inherently absurd and terrifying. This dissertation supports the latter position. It begins with an overview of humor theory, citing, among others, Hobbes, Kant, Freud, Bakhtin, and Des Pres. Humor is shown to be both a defense against persecution and a force for resistance and rebellion. The problematic aspects of memory, witnessing, and giving testimony are considered within the context of attempting to reconstruct history. The dissertation goes on to discuss the special nature of Jewish humor, which often focuses on the gap between the ideal of the Jews as a chosen people and the reality of Jewish historical experience. Following this are discussions of specific works--the first among them Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night. Central to this novel is the kind of moral ambiguity so often present in Holocaust narrative. The protagonist, a self-proclaimed apolitical man, accepts a job spying for the Allies; yet the job involves broadcasting inflammatory anti-Semitic propaganda. In Mother Night Vonnegut addresses the importance of behaving responsibly. The central figure in Leslie Epstein's King of the Jews, based on the head of the Lodz Ghetto Jewish Council, is enveloped in moral ambiguity, as well. Is he an egomaniacal tyrant interested only in self-glorification and in wielding power, or is he himself only a victim, trying to do his best under impossible circumstances? Next to be considered are the works of three Second-Generation authors: Art Spiegelman, Michael Chabon, and Thane Rosenbaum. It is shown that all three use humor, as well as magic, to respond to their Holocaust legacies. The transmission of memory and the phenomenon of secondhand witnessing are examined in this chapter. Finally, the dissertation addresses five film comedies that touch upon the Holocaust in varying degrees: The Great Dictator, To Be or Not to Be, The Producers, Seven Beauties, and Life Is Beautiful. It is shown that each one, through the use of very different types of humor, moved us forward in our ability to confront and contemplate a subject that remains largely incomprehensible.

  • "She said plain, burned things": A Feminist Poetics of the Unsayable in Twentieth Century Literary & Visual Culture

    Author:
    Leah Souffrant
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Meena Alexander
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the way silence, blank space, and other forms of creative withholding attempt to translate the unsayable, or to convey the unsayability of language in artistic form. Through a study of the works of Sylvia Plath, Jean Rhys, Rachel Zucker, Marguerite Duras, Anne Carson, and visual images, this work observes the connection between women's writing in the 20th century and the communication of painful subject matter through attention to absence. This study attends explicitly to how formal qualities in artistic works attend to ontological concerns through an examination of the intersection of concerns with phenomenology, feminism, and formal aesthetics.

  • The Advance of the Mobile Woman: Representations of British Women's Physical Mobility, 1660-1820

    Author:
    Amanda Springs
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Carrie Hintz
    Abstract:

    Britain's long eighteenth century (1660-1820) underwent an infrastructure and transportation revolution. Over the same period of time, scholars argue, the ideology of "the domestic woman" grew increasingly prevalent. This dissertation explores the improvements to roadways and representations of the various ways in which British women of the period increasingly utilized transportation, equestrianism, and pedestrianism to traverse the nation, which was also reflected in the development of traveling clothing for women. It argues that these literary and pictorial representations depict the tensions around women's increasing capacity for physical movement, contending that the ideology of the domestic woman was largely reactionary rhetoric to this improved capacity for physical mobility.

  • Romantic Embodiments: The Wordsworth-Coleridge Circle and the Aesthetics of Disability

    Author:
    Emily Stanback
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Alan Vardy
    Abstract:

    Romantic Embodiments seeks to put the body back into conversations about Romantic aesthetics. For as long as there have been healers and doctors, there have been those thought to be under their purview-what we now call "the disabled." During the Romantic period, cultural attitudes about disability were productively diverse, as religious, rationalist, and (proto-)normative views of disability met and clashed in the popular imagination. Romantic Embodiments examines texts in a variety of different genres-epic and lyric poetry, essays, medical and scientific tracts, periodicals, letters, notebooks-to demonstrate two critical and interrelated levels on which authors of the Wordsworth-Coleridge circle engage with the aesthetics of disability. The first is that of the non-normative body itself as a participant in aesthetically significant experiences. All of the texts in Romantic Embodiments reflect on what it means to encounter the disabled or to encounter the world as a disabled person, and specifically how disability impacts the aesthetic relations between the human body and the various bodies with which it comes into contact. The second level is a formal and conceptual one, as I examine moments at which texts embody such qualities as irrationality, inarticulacy, decay, disfigurement, fragmentation, and distortion at the level of the word, line, sentence, stanza, and genre. The relationship between disabled bodies and the textual qualities I discuss is not a necessary one, but I discuss characteristics that just as easily may be applied to the human body or work of art, and suggest connections between corporeal and artistic form. Romantic Embodiments consists of three sections-Scientific Bodies, Bodies in Pain, and Embodied Encounters-and focuses on a specific network of authors and thinkers who were directly engaged with one another from the 1790s onwards: John Thelwall, Thomas Beddoes, Humphry Davy, Tom Wedgwood, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb. Because I take on a group of authors that collaborated and communicated extensively, I intend Romantic Embodiments to fill in a critical gap related to the ways that we understand the aesthetics of specific authors and specific texts. But much more so I intend this project to open up important avenues of inquiry into Romantic literature and culture writ large.

  • 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.