Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • 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.

  • The Long Education: Instruction and Interpretation in Milton's Major Works

    Author:
    Zachary Davis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joseph Wittreich
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the development of John Milton's views on teaching and learning and argues that each of Milton's major works contains within it a search for an effective pedagogical model. By performing close readings of key primary texts and grounding those readings within the historical context of shifting educational theory in the seventeenth century, this work attempts to demonstrate the ways in which Milton's texts foreground literature's pedagogical function while simultaneously questioning the ability of texts to engender spiritual and moral impacts on their readers. This study also attempts to trace the growth and maturation of Milton's views on education from the early works--especially Of Education and Areopagitica--in which Milton stresses the importance of the teacher, whether it is an individual or a text, to Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes, works in which the authoritative, educative voices of the texts are often unreliable and, in many cases, misguided. Milton's commitment to a pedagogy that is capable of producing reformed readers, both in a spiritual and a civic sense, is in many ways incompatible with the pervasive concept in his works that the true source of learning is the expression of internal self-sufficiency brought about by external trials. This work argues that this incompatibility leads to conflicting attitudes toward teaching and learning in Milton's life and in his texts. The work concludes with a thorough exploration of Samson Agonistes, in which the text's unrelenting refusal to provide decisive valuations of the moral and spiritual justifications of its characters actions constitutes a pedagogy of uncertainty that is directed squarely at the reader.

  • Battles with Words: Literate and Linguistic Resistance in Multi-Ethnic U.S. Literature and Everyday Life

    Author:
    Melissa Dennihy
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ira Shor
    Abstract:

    Battles with Words analyzes the role of multi-ethnic U.S. literature as an alternative form of cultural production which critiques and challenges U.S. linguistic and literate hegemony and homogeneity. The texts comprising this field continually emphasize the ways in which words, through language and literacy, become tools of power and action used by the ethnically marginalized to negotiate everyday advantages for themselves and challenge the linguistic and cultural domination of Anglo America. Through their critiques of the culture of English-only monolingualism that has continued to dominate the national landscape of the U.S. throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these authors indicate their concern with the ways language intersects with and impacts literature, as well as their interest in using literature to explore and critique the relationship between language, literacy, race, ethnicity, and citizenship in the U.S. Using seven contemporary multi-ethnic U.S. novels, I examine how these novels portray language and literacy as weapons of the dominant which maintain and reproduce racist, classist systems of power and bureaucracy and as tools for those who are positioned as ethnically, linguistically, and nationally unauthorized, subjugated, and illegitimate to resist their subordination and disenfranchisement. By examining these works through a rhetorical lens, my analyses attempt to elucidate what is (un)said, (un)speakable, and (un)recorded when subordinates confront authorities in various "public" and "private" contexts including classrooms, social services offices, immigration stations, neighborhoods, and homes. The high-stakes literate and linguistic exchanges these works portray offer a multitude of perspectives from which to consider the seemingly mundane, ordinary ways in which language and literacy are used by the marginalized and the powerful as they negotiate various everyday contexts and encounters. While these novels reveal the many problematic uses of literacy and language in power struggles in the U.S., especially as they relate to race, ethnicity, and citizenship, they also suggest alternative ways that language and literacy might be used less hierarchically and more democratically in everyday life, offering models for transforming bureaucratic, institutional, and social encounters. These alternative models should interest not only literary scholars, but also those in the fields of composition, pedagogy, language, literacy and education.

  • John Clare: Helpston's Amanuensis

    Author:
    Nancy Derbyshire
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Alan Vardy
    Abstract:

    This dissertation elucidates the ways in which John Clare's relationship to his native environment impacts his poetic philosophy and practice. In order to take up this question, I establish how Clare's environmental engagements influence aspects of his poetic process, including his tasteful witnessing of sources, mimicry of and correspondence with sources, transcription of sources, and composition. I describe and theorize Clare's documentary poetics, which offers a viable way of interacting with nature by listening to, recording, and composing sound. I also identify some of the literary strategies Clare uses to give voice to nature, including the compositional method sono-loco-documentation. Lastly, I articulate Clare's "trifling" aesthetic sensibility in order to examine his strategic empowerment of rural obscurity, which seeks to establish original centers of poetic value and to demonstrate specific behaviors of critical appreciation. As documentary catalogs of sounds and sights, Clare's poems model a poetic natural history over against Romantic genius. This external captivation revises traditional ideas about the Romantic poet. Clare's work of witness, documentation, and testimony presents a new aesthetic in which the speaker's subjectivity is elided or set aside as a function of broadcasting the voices within nature. This bottom-up (or outside-in) aesthetic advocates for the rights of the [enclosed] land, landless dwellers, nature's "trifles," and the "rhyming peasant." Sound plays a marked role in Clare's identification with his environment. His innovation is to treat sound exchange literally in his poems and use it as a symbol of literary and artistic exchange and evaluation. Thus, his poetic process is characterized by a participatory relation that is auditory, egalitarian, and collaborative. His self-perceived task is to witness and transcribe nature's transmissions; he is Helpston's amanuensis. This framing trope produces an artificial effect (i.e., the absence of, or self-restraint by, a human bard), but it also allows for creative treatment of the loco-descriptive and pastoral modes according to new centers of lyrical value (e.g., rural labor, non-human lives, geographical locus, and aurality). The personification of non-humans represents certain political and ecological attitudes, but Clare extends personhood because it is an effective literary stratagem that accentuates both individuals and the community of Helpston and because it creates a powerful and eccentric source of interest (which trades in pleasurable, copious sounds). The conceit of a vocal nature forges a compelling, basic, and unassailable symbol of the poet. When every thing sings, certainly we must listen.

  • Archives Of Transnational Modernism: Lost Networks Of Art And Activism

    Author:
    Anne Donlon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    Archives Of Transnational Modernism: Lost Networks Of Art And Activism considers the work of several intersecting figures in transnational modernism, in order to reassess the contours of race and gender in anglophone literature of the interwar period in the U.S. and Europe. Writers and organizers experimented with literary form and print culture to build and maintain networks of internationalism. This dissertation begins to suggest some of these maps of connection, paying particular attention to people who played key roles as hubs within networks. British radical Sylvia Pankhurst's 1920s publications, which have not been much considered in terms of literary contribution, put Claude McKay and S.N. Ghose in print in the early 1920s. Her newspaper and literary magazine comprise an early site of black British literature and transnational modernism. Like Pankhurst's paper in the 1920s, black and Left newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides in the 1930s provided space for alternative accounts of history, and challenged mainstream media representations that excluded women and people of color, promoted war, or failed to adequately resist fascism. Some of these projects, which have often been forgotten or set aside as minor or too political, reside in archives, especially the archives of women who served as editors and organizers. British writer Nancy Cunard and African American organizers Louise Thompson and Thyra Edwards played important and largely unrecognized roles in the life of Langston Hughes's poetry. Contrary to the common impression of Hughes's late 1930s proletarian writing as masculinist, his poetry and his life prominently featured women activists--but this becomes apparent only by looking at their papers. Furthermore, Nancy Cunard and Thyra Edwards each made scrapbooks about the Spanish Civil War that provide alternative histories of the conflict itself, African American organizing efforts, and Republican exile that provide incisive supplements to existing Spanish Civil War scholarship. These writers and organizers created materials that--if recovered from their archives--challenge, revise, or refute existing narratives of the period between the World Wars.

  • "The Einstein of English Fiction": James Joyce, the New Physics, and Modernist Print Culture

    Author:
    Jeffrey Drouin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Edmund Epstein
    Abstract:

    There is a substantial field of scholarship addressing the incorporation of Albert Einstein's relativity theories into the structural and thematic aspects of James Joyce's later work. Those studies tend to be based on the assumption that the theories were "in the air" after their publication in 1905 and 1916. In contrast, this dissertation examines the continuity of thought about the novel and science before and after Einstein's emergence in the periodical cultures where Joyce's work appeared. Chapter 1 surveys the discourse of science and the novel in The Egoist and The Little Review from 1914 to 1918, tracing the rise in importance given to the novel in avant-garde circles due to its supposedly scientific nature. Parallel to that rise is the development of camps of thought about "non-materialist" science, which was perceived to restore individualism and self-determination to humanity. Chapter 2 examines the serialization of Ulysses alongside various source texts that are found to have been used in its pre-publication materials. In that way, ideas that directly affected the development of the "Wandering Rocks" and "Ithaca" episodes are shown to merge with a burgeoning awareness of relativity, including a series of mid-1918 articles by Dora Marsden in The Egoist that predate Einstein's popularization at the end of 1919. These two episodes, as well as the mythic method of Ulysses, bear structural relationships in accord with aspects of Einstein's theories that were discussed in the periodicals to which Joyce contributed and in other materials that he read. Chapter 3 recontextualizes Finnegans Wake in both the mainstream popular science culture and the inter-war avant-garde, elucidating relationships between the two that have not hitherto been discussed in Joyce scholarship. The conversation among Joyce, his colleagues at transition, and Wyndham Lewis in The Enemy arises specifically in response to the British popular science industry and influences several core episodes of Finnegans Wake. In examining the relationships between Joyce's later work and popular science, we can fill in a piece of the puzzle that is modernism's relationship to the new physics and, simultaneously, the history of the novel.

  • Depressives and the Scenes of Queer Writing

    Author:
    Allen Durgin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    My dissertation attempts to answer the question: What exactly does a reparative reading look like? The question refers to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's provocative essay on paranoid and reparative reading practices, in which Sedgwick describes how the hermeneutics of suspicion has become central to a whole range of intellectual projects across the humanities and social sciences. Criticizing this dominant critical mode for its political blindness and unintended replication of repressive social structures, Sedgwick looks for an alternative in what she calls reparative reading . Past attempts to expand on Sedgwick's brief yet suggestive remarks regarding reparative reading have foundered due to a lack of critical language. My dissertation is an attempt to develop this language. Retiring the term reparative , I return to the figure of the depressive within the works of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein and experimental psychologist Silvan Tomkins, as well as Sedgwick herself, and trace the recursive contours of a depressive mode. I demonstrate how such a recursive mode is responsive to its own contingency and changing environment and how it offers alternatives to the normalizing teleologies and assumptions of paranoid critical practices. Experimental in form and method, my dissertation enacts the same depressive mode it purports to describe, ultimately locating the depressive within particular forms, or scenes, of queer writing.

  • The Bend Back: Modernity, Sensation, and Vision in Bowen, Rhys, Woolf, and Lehmann

    Author:
    Lauren Elkin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    In this study, I take as my point of departure the idea that the shifts in women's social roles which occurred after the Great War and throughout the 1920s coincided with, and indeed made possible, formal shifts in women's writing. A change in social perspective occasions a change in literary perspective. However, these shifts did not result in an unhinged feeling of freedom and liberation for women. On the contrary these writers attest to a double bind of propriety and permissiveness, of freedom and constraint, that comes through in their texts on a formal, thematic, and affective level. The late modernist novels I examine testify to the fact that in order to “rise to the occasion,” as Elizabeth Bowen describes the central challenge of modern social life, one must be attuned to what is expected of one, to how one is viewed, to how one is judged, to how one feels, to learn how one is to love, and how one is to live. The essential function of perception, according, to Merleau–Ponty, is to “to lay foundations of, or inaugurate, knowledge” (19). Through readings of the work of Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys, Rosamund Lehmann and Virginia Woolf, I argue that the senses become a tool for understanding how to navigate this constantly shifting social context. Each chapter concentrates on a way in which the authors considered navigate the tensions between the self and society through an attentive activation of the physical as well as knowledge-based senses. A major narrative strategy adopted by these writers, I argue, is the bend back— rather than proceeding teleologically, their texts bend backward in a therapeutic attempt to revalue the present, or to understand how it came to be so, in a larger attempt to make sense of their moment and their role within it.

  • The Bend Back: Modernity, Sensation, and Vision in Bowen, Rhys, Woolf, and Lehmann

    Author:
    Lauren Elkin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    In this study, I take as my point of departure the idea that the shifts in women's social roles which occurred after the Great War and throughout the 1920s coincided with, and indeed made possible, formal shifts in women's writing. A change in social perspective occasions a change in literary perspective. However, these shifts did not result in an unhinged feeling of freedom and liberation for women. On the contrary these writers attest to a double bind of propriety and permissiveness, of freedom and constraint, that comes through in their texts on a formal, thematic, and affective level. The late modernist novels I examine testify to the fact that in order to “rise to the occasion,” as Elizabeth Bowen describes the central challenge of modern social life, one must be attuned to what is expected of one, to how one is viewed, to how one is judged, to how one feels, to learn how one is to love, and how one is to live. The essential function of perception, according, to Merleau–Ponty, is to “to lay foundations of, or inaugurate, knowledge” (19). Through readings of the work of Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys, Rosamund Lehmann and Virginia Woolf, I argue that the senses become a tool for understanding how to navigate this constantly shifting social context. Each chapter concentrates on a way in which the authors considered navigate the tensions between the self and society through an attentive activation of the physical as well as knowledge-based senses. A major narrative strategy adopted by these writers, I argue, is the bend back— rather than proceeding teleologically, their texts bend backward in a therapeutic attempt to revalue the present, or to understand how it came to be so, in a larger attempt to make sense of their moment and their role within it.

  • "The Dear Ordinary": The Novels of Marilynne Robinson

    Author:
    Alexander Engebretson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Gerhard Joseph
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a critical study of contemporary U.S. writer Marilynne Robinson with a focus on her three novels Housekeeping (1981), Gilead (2004), and Home (2009). The purpose of my study is to provide the first comprehensive interpretation and analysis of her literary output and to establish the contexts--biographical, literary, intellectual, religious, and political--which illuminate and inspire her work. In addition to offering detailed readings of each of her novels, my study engages a variety of questions prompted by her work, including questions of regional and religious identity, the intersection of fiction and non-fiction, landscape and environmental ethics, the imagination of subjectivity, and race and gender politics. By focusing solely on Marilynne Robinson, my dissertation offers a holistic understanding of an underappreciated author and makes an implicit argument for her exceptional value as a U.S. novelist and as an object for future scholarship.