Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • 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.

  • Errant Memory in African American Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century

    Author:
    Tristan Striker
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation, I trace the complex black literary trope of errant memory through American and African American literature. Authors of African descent are constantly subjected to what I call Africanity, or the paratextual historicizing elements provided by white interlocutors that seek to impose specific caricatures and stereotypes on them and their works to force them into the American historical narrative that depends on their dehumanized and commodified status. These caricatures and stereotypes are rooted in an Africa imagined by these white interlocutors, one that does not match any reality. Authors of African descent transcend this paratextual Africanity through what I call errant memory. Based on Edouard Glissant's errantry, which stipulates a way of life that is simultaneously aware of and disproves the sovereignty of Universalisms, errant memory emphasizes the act of remembering over fetishized narratives of trauma and inescapable violence inherent in Universal History and its version of black life and history. In short, persons of African descent are not just socially dead, they are mnemonically dead as well. Their mnemonic life is replaced with static and dehumanizing historical narratives. However, African American literature serves as a testament to mnemonic life. Africanity seeks to disallow authors of African descent to participate in the true freedom found within the space of literature, defining and determining their literary capacities to mimicking, parroting, rebelling, resisting, or otherwise reacting to and against the way white hegemonic society reads them. Errant memory, occupying the space of literature, explodes these definitions through the choice to embrace and emphasize personal, indeterminate, and disorienting memories. Instead of allowing the rhetoric of trauma to dictate their mnemonic lives, authors of African descent, including Phillis Wheatley, Nathaniel Turner, Hannah Crafts, and W.E.B. Du Bois, read their determined roles within the larger historical narrative and reclaim their personal mnemonic relationships with the important moments of the Middle Passage and American Slavery, freeing their literature and these cultural memories to the possibility of unlimited interpretation.

  • 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.