Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • The Wild Child: Children Are Freaks in Antebellum Novels

    Author:
    Heather Heim
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Hildegard Hoeller
    Abstract:

    Abstract The Wild Child: Children are Freaks in Antebellum Novels by Heather Bernadette Heim Advisor: Professor Hildegard Hoeller This dissertation investigates the spectacle of antebellum freak shows and focuses on how Phineas Taylor Barnum's influence permeates five antebellum novels. The study concerns itself with wild children staged as freaks in by Sylvester Judd, City Crimes by George Thompson, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Our Nig by Harriet Wilson. Barnum's influence was pervasive. The novels I investigate span a period of fourteen years before the Civil War, and offer a view of the kid show presented by the freaks in each text. Touching into spectacle, authors construct narratives and stage freaks in order to solidify boundaries that define insiders and outsiders. These works offer entertaining and didactic freaks to be gawked at and probed. As is usual with freak shows, the viewers/readers provide as much information about society and spectatorship in nineteenth century America, as do the freaks themselves.  

  • Dark Matter: Susan Howe, Muriel Rukeyser, and the Scholar's Art

    Author:
    Stefania Heim
    Year of Dissertation:
    2015
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    Instead of describing poetry as a set of constraints or history of practices, Muriel Rukeyser calls it "one kind of knowledge." Dark Matter heeds Rukeyser's call, theorizing a poetics of the "scholar's art," in which documentary investigation, autobiographical exploration, and formal innovation are mutual, interwoven concerns. The dissertation pairs American poets Susan Howe (b. 1937) and Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), reading their hybrid works not through the received categories of American poetry, or through common generic and disciplinary divisions, but using an inductive methodology that takes its lead from the poets. Understanding Howe and Rukeyser's literary experiments as serious interventions in broad fields of thought, I seek out and delve into their many sources - literary, historical, mythological, philosophical, scientific, and intimate. Rukeyser is commonly read as feminist poet of witness, and Howe an aesthetic innovator. The assumptions that underlie these categorizations get at the heart of what poetry is, why it matters, and how it relates to the project of living. Implicit are ideas about the relationship between poetry and politics, what constitutes artistic experimentation, and how poems should and do address lives, particularly the intimate lives of women. Within these frameworks, the qualities that have made Rukeyser's genre-challenging books so difficult to interpret and place are the same that have secured for Howe's a preeminent position in contemporary poetry. But just as Rukeyser's experiments in form are illegible to readers with particular expectations of realism, Howe scholarship suffers from a related, if inverted, short-sightedness: many revel in her linguistic ingenuity without probing its profound philosophical underpinnings or explicitly personal stakes. An act of scholarly reclamation, Dark Matter interrogates texts of Rukeyser's that have received scant or no critical attention: her 1942 biography of physical chemist Willard Gibbs, her musical about Harry Houdini (1973), and The Orgy (1965), her book about the pagan festival, Puck Fair. I read these alongside kindred texts by Howe: Pierce-Arrow (1999), which is indebted to Pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce; The Liberties (1980), which joins Jonathan Swift's mistress Stella and Shakespeare's Cordelia; and THAT THIS (2010), which investigates archival scholarship through the lens of personal grief.

  • Endless Assents: John Dewey, Aesthetic Experience and the Promise of American Poetry

    Author:
    James Hoff
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    Endless Assents makes the argument that John Dewey's theory of art (articulated in such texts as Experience and Nature and Art as Experience) offers a new and fruitful way of better appreciating and understanding the uniquely generative and transformative value of aesthetic experience in American poetry (specifically in the works of Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery, and A.R. Ammons). Understood from the perspective of Dewey's explicitly naturalist philosophy of aesthetic experience, the poetry and poetic discourse examined in this dissertation is interpreted (in various different ways) as an example of the simple fact that art is neither a fixed concept nor a static object but is instead a quality of experience, made manifest through active engagement with the environment. Thus art and aesthetic experience, far from representing some abstract ideal of beauty--somehow separate from the ugly business of so-called "ordinary" life--is in fact an active and integral, though rarely realized, part of day to day experience. Understood thus, the aesthetic becomes, as it did for all of the poets in this dissertation, not only a source of pleasure, but a method for engaging with and changing our environment. Such a realization marks a radical shift in the way that American poets thought about the value and use of their own work and of poetry more broadly. This realization, however, as Dewey argues, is impossible without first recognizing the value and embracing the experience of what he called "Animal life below the human scale," for it is in animal life that we can most readily grasp the source of the aesthetic. Unfettered by the many habits, conventions, and false dichotomies of human reason, the animal exists, in a state of constant engagement with the facts of the environment, weaving together seamlessly the past and future into the present moment. Thus this dissertation argues that by recognizing and embracing animal life as a vital and indispensable part of the human, these poets were, in a stereotypically modernist fashion, able to transcend the limits of culture and habit, redefining the very nature of experience. Healing the rift between the human and the animal allowed these poets to then articulate a poetics of aesthetic engagement as a model for transforming life and experience from the ground up.

  • Stars Indeed: The Celebrity Culture of Shakespeare's London

    Author:
    Jennifer Holl
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mario DiGangi
    Abstract:

    Despite a recent boom of scholarly interest in the cultural, economic, and affective force of celebrity, critical inquiry remains peculiarly limited to the past century, with only a handful of accounts veering into questions of pre-film era celebrity and almost no discussion of the phenomenon's existence prior to the eighteenth century. Stars Indeed expands the putative historical parameters of celebrity to argue that a confluence of theatrical, economic, and social innovations in early modern London gave rise to a nascent celebrity culture that resonated profoundly through performance, print, market exchange, and social relations. As the theater became a stable, public forum for performance and the circulation of current information, the early modern player took on an increasingly visible and important cultural role, embodying and reflecting social innovations and tensions. Facilitated through the reciprocal dynamics between audience and actor in the playhouse, and perpetuated through the player's accessibility and commoditization in performance and print, the emergence of a celebrity culture empowered early modern Londoners with a democratic alternative to traditional discourses and icons of authority circumscribed by birthright. In four chapters, this dissertation explores the collaborative construction of the early modern celebrity in the theater, the circulation and appropriation of celebrity name and image in print media, the tensions between traditional modes of fame enjoyed through birthright and the emergent celebrity of popular performers, and finally, how Shakespeare's enduring and ever-evolving celebrity has colored popular and critical reception throughout the centuries. As celebrity remains a particularly immediate and ephemeral kind of fame, this dissertation illuminates the celebrity presence of notable players, including Tarlton, Alleyn, and Kempe, through careful analyses of these stars' appearances in contemporary ballads, commendatory verse, prose accounts, and staged performances, while also exploring the ways Shakespeare, Jonson, Marston, and other playwrights interrogated the mechanisms, implications, and impact of this developing theatrical phenomenon.

  • Notes Toward a Super Fiction: Revision, Temporality, and the Superhero Genre

    Author:
    David Hyman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Gerhard Joseph
    Abstract:

    Notes Toward a Super Fiction argues for the recognition of the superhero as a distinct narrative genre that offers provocative ways of conceptualizing the process of revision. This recognition involves an exploration of the idiosyncratic narrative temporality of the genre, as well as the manner in which perpetual revision has evolved as a negotiation of that temporality. Particular emphasis is placed on the parallels to issues concerning revision within the field of composition studies. Chapter One situates the superhero within the emerging discourse of comics studies by examining the contested definitions and histories of three key terms: comics; comic book; and superhero. Chapter Two explores how shifting ideas of the nature and purpose of revision have emerged from and contributed to the temporal ambiguity characteristic of the superhero genre throughout its history, a narrative condition that Eco describes as oneiric. Chapter Three links these shifts to historical transformations regarding revision within composition studies, emphasizing the recent tendency of the field to view revision as embedded in the politics of cultural and institutional authority rather than the practice of textual production. Chapter Four explores potential alternative paradigms of revision as a textual practice through close readings of three superhero narratives that can be described as metarevisionary: Kurt Busiek's "The Nearness of You;" Warren Ellis Planetary; and Alan Moore's Supreme: The Story of the Year. The dissertation concludes by suggesting parallels between the revision strategies explored in the previous chapter and Fredric Jameson's framing of the utopian as irreducible multiplicity, which in turn echoes Deleuze's reading of Nietzschean difference as an alternative to Hegelian dialectics.

  • Mark Twain's Autobiographies: Which Was the Truth?

    Author:
    John Irby
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Fred Kaplan
    Abstract:

    Mark Twain's autobiography was an early example of literary modernism in an unrecognized genre. Its multiple editorial incarnations not only offer evidence that its modernistic elements have been misunderstood but also raise questions about editorial and public acceptance of modernistic elements in literature. Twain's autobiography also raises questions about the relation the human quality of subjectivity bears to factuality in autobiography and the expectations readers bring to autobiography. The plural nature of Twain's autobiographies in the title refers to the author's struggle to find over three decades the artistic form that would express his life story.

  • Deployments of Whiteness: Affect, Materiality, and the Social in Late Medieval English Literature

    Author:
    Wan-Chuan Kao
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Glenn Burger
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines select medieval discourses of whiteness, both somatic and non-somatic, and their imbrications with the affective, the material, and the social registers of late medieval culture. Contemporary critical whiteness studies remains heavily invested in whiteness as a dermal phenomenon and as a racial marker. But medieval deployments of whiteness, in the absence of a rigid association between racial discourses and color, do not simply denote or connote skin tone. Rather, whiteness as a representational trope makes visible normative cultural ideals such as courtly beauty, Christian salvation, chivalric prowess, or European identity. At the same time, however, whiteness marks the limits of ruling ideologies by registering specific ruptures and ambiguities within the values it signifies. Affectively, as in The Book of the Duchess and in Pearl, whiteness is a figuration of the state of mourning and the workings of desire; it signifies not only the lost body of a feminine Lady but also an international, continental-inspired culture of courtliness in which Chaucer and the Pearl-poet actively participate. Materially, whiteness is an embodiment of cultural refinement and salvific value. Thus, in Pearl, the representation of whiteness as a valuable object highlights its function as a commodity fetish that simultaneously inscribes and erases its history of material labor. Or in late medieval representations of the Passion in Piers Plowman and in mystery plays, the white leather body suit worn by actors playing Christ is literally the material skin of an animal but nonetheless represents the humanity of God, whose suffering flesh stands for the entire body politic of Christendom. Socially, in the cross-cultural encounters between Mongol East and European West, whiteness is a sign of the West's anxious appropriations of the Mongol Khan's superior chivalric prowess and courtliness; the Khan frequently appears white and European in medieval travelogues and in visual art. However much it may be in the nature of whiteness to disguise its working as a universalizing agent in such examples, whiteness is always in play with the affective, material, and social modalities of cultural values in the late Middle Ages. And in the act of play, affective markers of white do become discourses of Whiteness, technologies of performative social negotiations with real material effects.

  • "Keywords" for Post-Imperial Britain: (African-)American Routes to Black British Cultural Studies

    Author:
    Demetrios Kapetanakos
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    Over the past three decades, Black British theorists Stuart Hall, Hazel Carby, and Paul Gilroy have made major contributions to the field of African-American Studies. Their readings of the intersection of race, culture, power, and identity were extremely important. This intellectual dialogue has flowed mostly from Britain to the United States. My dissertation reverses the trajectory and explores how the United States and the African-American experience has shaped Black British Cultural Studies, a term coined in a collection of essays by these figures. I locate the field in the 1970's and 1980's with the rise of Thatcherism. This moment is important because it marks the twilight of British imperialism, as defined by direct colonial rule, and the rise of American Empire, as exemplified through its global dominance in the economic, political, and cultural spheres. As the world order shifted from Britain to America after World War II, the structure of British society transformed from one focused on a rooted way of life to a new identity in this changing global order. British society with its localized culture and working-class camaraderie was replaced by an individualistic, winner-takes-all system embodied in neoliberal ideology. When immigrants from Britain's colonies arrived after the Second World War demanding their own stake in British society, this shift would go on to shape how ideas of identity and belonging that had seemed fixed would now have to be rethought. For these Black British Cultural Studies scholars, the experience of the immigrants from the colonies and their offspring needed a completely new understanding of terms such as empire, nation, culture, migration, and multiculturalism. The narrative of people arriving from the Africa, South Asia, and particularly the Caribbean could not be defined as traditionally British. In each chapter, I explore how the United States and the African-American experience have shaped the development of these concepts in the writings of Hall, Carby, and Gilroy. These figures have challenged the definitions of seemingly definitive terms like nation, culture, and society and have called for new models and narratives to reconceive them and apply them to the contemporary conditions.

  • STANDARD DEVIATIONS: GENRE, GENDER, AND THE CARTOGRAPHICAL IMAGINATION IN POPULAR BRITISH LITERATURE, 1830-1880

    Author:
    Taylor Kennamer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Talia Schaffer
    Abstract:

    While cartography is understood to undergird the spatial interventions integral to Victorian reform in areas such as sewerage and housing, little critical attention has been paid to the influence of cartographical discourse in itself, rather than through its concrete products, as a force that fundamentally altered nineteenth-century conceptions of self, other, and environment. Standard Deviations fills that gap, studying the changing parameters of spatial epistemology by monitoring expanding and contracting definitions of bodily deviance across four generic modes historically associated with the nineteenth century: detective, sensation, and domestic fiction, and the household management guide. Altered perceptions of spatial reality and possibility result in altered definitions of deviance, and those definitions in turn manifest in generic innovations. The texts considered here outline a dilemma: the tension between scientific and personal, imaginative mapping practices. As Chapter One shows, Martin Chuzzlewit delineates Charles Dickens's engagement with the issue of accurate spatial perception, particularly in the urban milieu. For Dickens, mapping is freighted with ethical cargo, so that accuracy of vision is equated with moral sight - the science of cartography - and imaginative modes of mapping suggest ambiguity. Dickens employs detective fiction to discipline his imaginative; thus cartographical discourse and generic conventions develop symbiotically. Chapter Two continues the exploration of deviance within the urban context in Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, a meditation on the over-determined status of middle-class female bodies. Collins's streetwalking character is illegible because she harbors too many possible identities (wife, servant, prostitute, criminal, victim). Chapters three and four demonstrate the influence of cartographic discourse on the domestic, an area coded by the Victorians as separate, yet highly permeable. Household management guides were verbal maps that employed cartographical strategies in order to subject domestic space to discipline and regulation. Such texts and domestic fiction show the development of a semiotic system based on spatial integrity - a place for everything, and everything in its place - that led to cultural obsession with a particular type of deviance: bad housekeeping.

  • Hybrid Aesthetics and the Politics of the Archive: Muriel Rukeyser's Spanish Civil War

    Author:
    Rowena Kennedy-Epstein
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    In July, 1936 the American poet Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) traveled to Spain for the British magazine Life and Letters To-day to report on the People's Olympiad (July 19-26, 1936), an alternative to Hitler's Berlin games. Instead of reporting on the games, however, she witnessed the outbreak of civil war. Rukeyser was only in Spain five days, but she cites the experience as the place where "I began to say what I believed" and "the end of confusion." Only twenty-two at the time, Rukeyser's experience as witness to both the military coup and the revolutionary response in Catalonia proved transformational; she would write about Spain, its war, revolution, exiled and dead, for over forty years after, creating a radical and interconnected twentieth-century textual history. In each work on Spain the same narratives, images and phrases proliferate, recontextualized inside her contemporary political and literary moment. In poems, reportage, memoir, essays and fiction, and more often in experimental forms that combine these genres, she reiterates, re-imagines and theorizes her experience during the first days of the war and her own moment of political, sexual and poetic awakening inside its history. Through this proliferating textual history Rukeyser continually documents, recuperates and archives the narratives of those who fought against fascism in Spain and those marginalized by "History's revision" - women, activists, exiles and refugees. This dissertation trace these narratives through her archive and activism, through nearly all of her poetry collections, in numerous out of print essays and unpublished poems, and in diaries and correspondences that retell again and again the scenes of possibility, of freedom, of desire, of violence and of subjectivity that shaped her and her work. The story of Spain is most fully developed in her unpublished novel, Savage Coast, which is edited and presented here for the first time.