Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • War Baby: Race, Nation, and Cultural Conceptions of Lesbian Motherhood

    Author:
    Lisa Brundage
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    The Interwar period was a time of exaggerated social anxieties about gender, race, class, and sexuality. One of the primary vehicles for expressing this agitation was through a pronatalist cultural focus on maternity that posited women as gatekeepers of racial purity, traditional gender roles who perform a specifically patriotic duty--akin to men's military service--through reproduction. Concurrently, thanks to the ubiquity of Radclyffe Hall's image after the obscenity trial for The Well of Loneliness in 1928, the general public in England and the USA had a visual, collective idea of "the lesbian" for the first time. "The lesbian" was in many ways a foil for the idealized, domestic mother, and three novels from this period that are frequently considered classics of lesbian literature all place a heavy, yet currently under-explored, emphasis on the embattled relationship between lesbianism and maternity: Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928), Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show (1936), and Nella Larsen's Passing (1929). Despite her notoriety, Hall's novel places a deeply conservative value in women's reproductive capacity; a driving force in the plot is the female invert Stephen Gordon's need to compel her "normal" lover Mary Llewellyn to heterosexual reproduction--to prevent Mary from using lesbianism as contraception--over Mary's protestation. Warner's novel takes a more politically radical stance, tracing its protagonist Sophia Willoughby's disillusionment with white, aristocratic motherhood, ultimately having her reject not just marriage and maternity, but other forms of kinship in order to focus on her personal and solitary process of political radicalization. Larsen's novel focuses on the domestic and racial entrapment of bourgeois marriage and motherhood. Larsen conjoins the paranoia of racial and sexual passing through metaphors of pregnancy; Clare Kendry's paranoia about producing a black baby is recapitulated in Irene Redfield's anxiety about her attraction to Clare. These themes are reinvigorated and retold in contemporary narratives about lesbian mothers. The final chapter focuses on the lesbian television soap The L Word (2004-2009), which problematically posits the lesbian nuclear family as a locus of social protest and, along with gay military service, a primary conduit for fighting institutionalized homophobia.

  • Conspiratorial Modernism: Modernism and Conspiracy Theory in Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, and Musil

    Author:
    Johannes Burgers
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    This project investigates the concurrent emergence of literary modernism and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in Europe and America between 1894 and 1942. This period, stretching from the Dreyfus Affair to the beginning of the Endlösung (final solution), represents the most significant shifts in anti-Semitic discourse in Europe, and roughly outlines the most important years of modernism. By bringing these two discourses into conversation, this project documents their remarkably similar reactions to modernity's fragmentation and dislocation. Both modernists and conspiracy theorists believed that modernity had fractured an erstwhile total and complete reality. They therefore wrote vast, totalizing works that tried to create a complete worldview. The critical difference was that modernists concluded that such a worldview was no longer possible, while the conspiracy theorists were convinced that they are being thwarted by Jews. In uncovering a previously undocumented history, this study not only reveals the pervasive and multifarious influence of anti-Semitism on literature, but also contributes to a growing body of scholarship on modernism's relationship to other early twentieth century discourses. Methodologically, this thesis is supported through a three-pronged approach that combines history, biography, and aesthetics. First, I construct a historical model that documents the transmission of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in Europe and across the Atlantic. Second, I situate Marcel Proust, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Robert Musil within this context through their personal biography, especially their contact with anti-Semitism and anti-Semites. Third, I align the aesthetics of conspiracy theory with that of each authors' magnum opus, respectively, A la recherche du temps perdu , Ulysses, the Yoknapatawpha novels, and Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. In its historical approach, this study uses the current transnational approach in Modernism Studies, and applies this model to conspiracy theories. Traditionally, scholars have explained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by situating them within a national discourse. My comparative approach highlights the substantially different antipathies that people had towards Jews in each of the countries studied, while at the same time revealing an extensive transatlantic economy of anti-Semitic ideas. Though often couched in nationalist rhetoric, anti-Semitism's theoretical underpinnings were established through this larger conversation. This discourse of anti-Semitism touched the lives of all these authors in different ways, and shaped how they represented Jewishness in their texts. Through letters, journals, and other often-overlooked biographical material, I uncover biographical connections between each author and anti-Semitism. All the authors demonstrate various levels of sympathy for Jews, while also harboring negative stereotypes. Beyond the historical and biographical overlap, modernism and conspiracy theory share a similar aesthetic. Modernist and conspiracy texts were encyclopedic and omnivorous in their scope. Consequently, the narrative drive of such texts relies on assembling and fashioning the work into a coherent whole. Yet, their sheer overwhelming size continuously resists complete comprehension. Further, at the center of each work is a region of unknowability that ostensibly masks a transcendental truth that, when revealed, will make the world complete again. I conclude that for the modernist the point is that such a transcendental truth no longer exists, and that for the conspiracy theorist this truth is obscured by a vast Jewish conspiracy. Modernism therefore undermines and resists the conspiratorial project by revealing totality as an impossibility. I structure the chapters around specific dates that indicate real and fictional moments of rupture that modernists attempt to reveal and conspiracy theorists try to close.

  • The Vastness of Small Spaces: Self-Portraits of the Artist as a Child Enclosed

    Author:
    Matthew Burgess
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    A tent of bed sheets, a furniture fort, a corner of the closet surrounded by chosen objects--the child finds or fashions these spaces and within them daydreaming begins. What do small spaces signify for the child, and why do scenes of enclosure emerge in autobiographical self-portraits of the artist? Sigmund Freud's theory that the literary vocation can be traced to childhood experiences is at the heart of this project, especially his observation that "the child at play behaves like a writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, re-arranges the things of this world in a new way." Gaston Bachelard's exploration of space and poetic reverie is also foundational, and I situate Freud's "child at play" within Bachelard's spatial topography in order to examine the ways in which enclosures facilitate the discovery and development of the child's creative capacity. The paradoxical relation between smallness and vastness is a central theme in this dissertation; as the child imagines a world of her own within the small space, spatial constraints dissolve or vanish. My first chapters consider representations of childhood space in the work of two British memoirists at midcentury, Virginia Woolf and Denton Welch, and in the third chapter, I analyze lyric self-portraits by three American poets of the postwar period: Frank O'Hara, Anne Sexton, and Robert Duncan. Others have suggested that childhood enclosures are symbolic of "womb" or "cave," but these interpretations fail to capture the complexity of meanings at play within these scenes. I argue that this recurring figure is less about a lost union with the maternal body or some atavistic memory of the beginning of history; rather, for the author tracing the origins of her creative vocation to childhood, the small space is where the artist is born.

  • Exercises in Criticism: The Theory and Practice of Literary Constraint

    Author:
    Louis Bury
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    My dissertation is an exercise in applied poetics, using constraint-based methods in order to write about constraint-based literature. I define constraint-based literature as literature that imposes rules and restrictions upon itself over and above the rules and restrictions (such as grammar and lexicon) inherent in language--as literature that understands itself as part of an avant-garde tradition whose most prominent precursor is the work of the OuLiPo, or "Workshop For Potential Literature," a French writing group, founded in 1960 and still active today, whose purpose is to invent arbitrary constraints for the purposes of generating literary texts. When completed, my dissertation will contain ninety-nine short chapters, each of which follows a different compositional procedure. By tracing the lineage and enduring influence of early Oulipian classics, I argue that contemporary Anglophone writers have, in their adoption of constraint-based methods, transformed such methods from apolitical literary laboratory exercises into a form of cultural critique, whose usage is surprisingly widespread in contemporary Anglophone literature, particularly among poets and experimental novelists.

  • The Gawain-Poet and the Textual Environment of Fourteenth-Century English Anticlericalism

    Author:
    Ethan Campbell
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    The 14th-century Middle English poems Cleanness and Patience, homiletic retellings of biblical stories which appear in the same manuscript as Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, offer moral lessons to a general Christian audience, but the introduction to Cleanness, with its reference to men whom "prestez arn called," suggests that a central feature of their rhetoric is anticlerical critique. Priests do not appear as exemplars but as potentially filthy hypocrites who inspire God's harshest wrath, since their sins may contaminate Christ's body in the Eucharist. Using Cleanness's opening lines as a guide, this dissertation reads both poems as a set of warnings and exhortations aimed particularly at clerics. Throughout Cleanness, priest-like characters such as Noah, Abraham, and Daniel struggle against ritual defilement, and Patience presents an extended example of a single character, the prophet Jonah, who shirks his duties as an absentee priest. These contextual readings situate the poems within the rich textual environment of 14th-century anticlericalism, including the works of archbishop Richard FitzRalph; poets John Gower, William Langland, and Geoffrey Chaucer; Oxford dissidents and Bible translators such as Nicholas Hereford; and, most notably, John Wyclif, the Oxford philosopher and preacher who inspired the heretical Lollard movement. The opening chapters present an overview of the anticlerical tradition in England and a summary of the central issues driving critique in the late 14th century. Subsequent chapters present close readings of Cleanness and Patience which foreground congruences between the Gawain-poet's rhetoric and the anticlerical polemic favored by his contemporaries. Since anticlericalism became identified in the late 14th century with heretical positions on the sacraments such as Donatism and Lollardy, this analysis pays close attention to the poet's references to baptism, penance, and the Eucharist, and concludes that, though he embraces clerically administered sacraments as essential elements of the Christian life, he shares many of the Lollards' concerns about priestly corruption and its effects. The final chapter gives a similarly contextual reading to the two "canonical" works of the poet, Pearl and Sir Gawain, in which references to the priesthood are often overlooked, yet, I argue, crucial to each poem's meaning.

  • The American Teacher Memoir: From Confessions to the Inspirational True Story

    Author:
    Jessica Cantiello
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    Over 225 American teachers have published autobiographies that recount their lives in public school classrooms, but the teacher memoir, as a literary genre, has yet to receive sustained scholarly consideration. Since at least the beginning of the common school movement in the 1830s, a movement that is chronicled by the first teacher memoirist William Alcott in his aptly named Confessions of a School Master (1839), Americans have put enormous faith in the power of schooling to create an educated citizenry that can sustain a functional democracy. Teacher memoirs combine with portrayals by historians, administrators, policymakers, and scientists to assess the success or failure of education, which is often entangled with the perceived success or failure of America itself. I read teacher memoirs in the context of educational policy and literary history to demonstrate how the cultural climate in a given era shaped the way in which teachers narrated their experiences, and, in turn, how the memoirs influenced educational debates. This study raises complex questions about the political efficacy of literary texts, contributes to discussions within autobiography theory of the ethical considerations of life writing, and enriches historical narratives of teaching and learning.

  • Negotiating Individualism: Apologies, Social Contracts, and the Romantic Making of the Self

    Author:
    Charles Carroll
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Yousef
    Abstract:

    Abstract Negotiating Individualism : Apologies, Social Contracts, and the Romantic Making of the Self by Charles Durning Carroll Advisor: Professor Nancy Yousef "Negotiating Individualism : Apologies, Social Contracts, and the Romantic Making of the Self" ar-gues that a central mechanism for the formation of our modern identity is the ritual of the apology. This is because as a speech act the apology always involves a recognition of the notion of contract upon which depends much of what we think of as modern about society. According to the view I advance here our understanding of our sense of individualism is based on a negotiation between the personal language of the apology and those collective ideals embodied in the social contract. I argue that our transition from an ancient world of fixed social position to our contemporary, more fluid view of ourselves depended on a movement from social coercion to collective agreement and from the rule of physical force to that of persuasive language. This social change depended first upon reconceiving of ourselves in imaginary terms as persons of equal power, and second on the construction of narratives that helped model our newly reimagined selves. These narra-tives required the use of a new sort of persuasive language--the literary apology. Literary apologies helped construct our modern self because structurally they were contractual offerings--proposals for negotiation and linguistic agreement. Writers of imaginative literature used such literary apologies to habituate readers to the idea of a social contract and to the political equality and individual rights that the contract inherently assumed. After a conceptual and historical overview in the Introduction, the first chapter takes up Hobbes' Leviathan as that form of the social contract ultimately productive of the modern self. The contract Hobbes establishes requires an individual act of forgiveness as one of the preconditions for the establishment of his social contract. Chapter Two shows how in his Confessions Jean-Jacques Rousseau rewrites the Hobbesian social contract by converting this passive idea of forgiveness into the active form of the apology. Chapter Three, on William Godwin's Caleb Williams, analyses the apology's subsequent evolution from an external in-the-world act, to its literary form. In my final chapter I show how Jane Austen, as an inheritor of the literary apology, is able to use it to bring women into being as politically viable entities.

  • "A Bird's Life": Pragmatism in the Field of Twentieth-Century American Poetry

    Author:
    Kristen Case
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    "A BIRD'S LIFE": PRAGMATISM IN THE FIELD OF TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN POETRY by Kristen Case Adviser: Joan Richardson This work investigates how and where the seeds of American philosophical thought, in particular of that strain of American thinking known as pragmatism, take root in the diverse field of twentieth-century American poetry. In considering the work of Marianne Moore in relation to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost in relation to Charles Sanders Peirce, William Carlos Williams in relation to John Dewey, Charles Olson in relation to Henry Thoreau, and Susan Howe in relation to William James, I have attempted to illuminate some of the far-flung resonances of pragmatist thinking with the work of very different American poets. I take my title from James' description of thought as "like a bird's life" composed of "an alternation of flights and perchings" (Principles 243). By following the flights of pragmatist thinking into the realm of poetry and poetics, I hope to trace a particular epistemology that emerges from diverse forms of American writing, one in which mind and world are understood as inseparable, and the human being is regarded as, in Thoreau's terms, "an inhabitant, or part and parcel of Nature" ("Walking" 149). One assumption of this work is that intellectual history is most accurately figured not as a line but as an organic growth, that intellectual problems and ways of approaching them are carried like seeds from one genre, one generation, one region to another. Central to my approach is the belief that the meaning of any given work of literature resides not in "the work itself" nor merely in the mind of its readers, but rather in the interaction between reader and text, and further, that this interaction, the complex relationship between a reader and a book, constitutes a legitimate object of inquiry. This extension of the notion of what constitutes the proper object of literary studies is derived from William James' radical empiricism, which insists that "the relations between things, conjunctive as well as disjunctive, are just as much matters of direct particular experience, neither more so nor less, than the things themselves" (Essays x).

  • The Affective Uses of Dogs: Pet-Keeping in Nineteenth-Century England and America

    Author:
    Keridiana Chez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Carrie Hintz
    Abstract:

    By focusing on the human-dog bond, The Affective Uses of Dogs: Pet-Keeping in Nineteenth-Century England and America studies how gendered subjectivities are formed through the management of the interspecies intimacies. In the course of the nineteenth century, petted animals became, particularly for the middle-classes, deeply important for their affective uses, reflecting a new ethos of "humaneness" that earned the dog a central place in the affective economies of the family. In their relationships with humans, dogs elicited love, terror, and loathing, and the regulation of these powerful interspecies affects produced bourgeois Anglo-American masculinities and femininities and transformed the dynamics of domesticity itself. The "good" dog, discursively reduced to serve as a technology for the production of affect, was instituted in the family economy to perform positive services through its relationships with humans. In pursuit of domestic harmony, such pets were employed to bind increasingly disparate and insular family members, either by serving as common love objects (in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and Oliver Twist or common love projects (in Margaret Marshall Saunders' Beautiful Joe). The head of household (human, male) jockeyed in a fragile web of interspecies relations that threatened, in their sincere intimacy, to disrupt his power. Anxieties deepened with the increasing awareness of human dependency on the beloved pet--a love coded as an abjection, a site of ontological annihilation. The proliferation of convincing representations of animal interiority had the unexpected effect of producing the beloved dependent as an increasingly independent agent, and consequently, a potentially mutinous peer. Rising anxieties became entangled with fears of emasculation, especially as certain "dandy" pets were already too closely identified with women of a certain class. In Bram Stoker's Dracula and Jack London's The Call of the Wild and White Fang, we see attempts to defuse this potential for mutiny; interspecies love and care were circumscribed to run their potent course along a well-defined and finite track. In the case of Dracula, the companion animal (and companion woman) who takes up the position of affect-producing, economically useless dependent may be loved and treasured intensely, so long as the lover develops the paranoid willingness to kill the beloved, freeing the lover from an affective tie that endangers his elite position. In London's dog novels, domesticity can no longer contain this menace: the companion animal may be loved, but this love is painfully experienced as an externalized episode, away from the home, like a shameful yet tacitly sanctioned secret. Together, this dissertation argues that the human-dog relationship is a central site for the production of many of the central tenets of bourgeois gender and sexuality.

  • Woolf Play: The Art of Science in Between the Acts

    Author:
    Barbara Coppus
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    In recent decades much has been written about Virginia Woolf and science. It is my contention that Between the Acts, what was to be Woolf's final novel, is her most subtle, most fully nuanced expression of scientific theory. Her interweaving of ideas concerning the primordial, history, the role of the observer, space, matter and time all come together to make this book her most radical and innovative. While extensive studies have been done involving Woolf's entire oeuvre, no in-depth reading has focused exclusively on Between the Acts as it reflects the theories of Charles Darwin, Sir James Jeans, Sir Arthur Eddington, Albert Einstein, and quantum mechanics. As background I look at the Victorian world into which Virginia Woolf was born and describe the scientific context with its particular attention to philology and language theory in England. The Victorians had great need for the predictability and order of the Cartesian-Euclidean-Newtonian universe. There was little room for randomness in such a setting, and writers depicted the world through "realistic," cause-and-effect description. But attending to the very important Darwinian information, William James in his 1890 The Principles of Psychology introduced the idea of "stream of thought," where he described thought as a continuous flow deflected, nonetheless, accidentally, like the stream of a river by the accidental features of the river bed. Woolf was intrigued by the issues of sensation and perception and their connection to evolutionary development in her life-long endeavor to capture the transitory nature of human consciousness through language. I offer a concentrated analysis of a work which served as a pivot from the Victorian into the Modern Age. In addition, I deepen the discourse concerning the interplay between language and science during this crucial moment. Through close reading and passage exegesis this dissertation establishes the inextricability of scientific rumination in Virginia Woolf's language in what would be her final attempt to move beyond the limitations of linear, deterministic, patriarchal, realist fiction. Between the Acts remains an exquisite work about the ephermerality of the cosmos and human experience and about the creative spirit in all its forms.