Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • READING FOR (THE) REAL: BETWEEN JACQUES LACAN AND NARRATIVE PLOT

    Author:
    Jungchun Ko
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Anne Humpherys
    Abstract:

    This dissertation uses Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to dialogue with narrative theory: it investigates, on the global level, the raison d'être of narrative and questions, in particular, the existing narratological framework wherein the workings of plot have been discussed and apprehended. Inspired by Peter Brooks' classic Reading for the Plot (1984), this dissertation continues to forge an interconnection between human psychical dynamics and literary textual dynamics. More, it aims at reopening such a discussion of plot apropos of narrative meaning, naming gaps therein, and proposing some possible alternative terms with which to further along narrative/plot studies. In order to accomplish the abovementioned objectives, this dissertation brings in Lacanian theory and vocabulary to rethink, among all, the role of desire in narrative vis-à-vis that in the human subject--it argues in the first place that narrative's desire is the desire of the human subject (an extension of Lacan's famous dictum, one's desire is the desire of the Other). This formulation of an underpinning argument may sound too simple, but what the human subject desires remains an ever-perplexing one. Within the context of Lacanian theory, desire is never an independent term, being self-sufficient or unrelated to the other concepts. Rather, the Lacanian notion of desire points to a web of desire that revolves around such other locutions as (and placed here in random order): the real, lack, anxiety, the pleasure principle, jouissance, the symbolic, the Other, objet petit a, mastery, limit, and freedom. Premised on the argument that narrative's desire is the desire of the human subject and on the compass of Lacanian desire, this dissertation investigates the workings of the web of desire in narrative. Plot serves as the narrative agent that puts the web of desire--both in narrative and the human subject--in operation. Therewith posits this dissertation a way, a theory, to apprehend the psychological premise of narrative beginnings, the acting-out of narrative middles, and affective enjoyments embedded within narrative endings. Reading for the plot, this work concludes, is reading for more than pleasure. Reading for the plot is, rather, reading for the affective aesthetics of the human condition.

  • The Serial Autobiographies of Mary McCarthy, Kate Millett, Julia Alvarez, and Jamaica Kincaid

    Author:
    Karin Kohlmeier
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    The Serial Autobiographies of Mary McCarthy, Kate Millett, Julia Alvarez, and Jamaica Kincaid explores the writings of four authors, each of whom wrote multiple autobiographical works. It argues that the serial autobiographer depends on her relationship with her reading audience and that the reader is an essential component of the long-term autobiographical project. In each case, the autobiographer uses her audience as a mirror in which to view herself as who she is changes over time. The four authors discussed in this dissertation provide particularly illuminating examples of the autobiographical self-in-process, as they all write their autobiographies with the explicitly stated purpose of figuring out who they are. McCarthy writes as an orphan who yearns to know who she is and where she came from but does not have the aid of the "family memory" that comes with having parents. Millett struggles with the identity of "lesbian feminist," a term that described two incompatible camps within political activism when she was writing in the 1970's; she also writes as a means of coping with severe depression and mental illness as well as the loss of self that she felt occurred after her doctoral dissertation, published as Sexual Politics, made her famous. Alvarez and Kincaid both use writing to grapple with racial/national identities that represent complex positions. In Alvarez's case, she is expected to be both Dominican and American--identities which are incompatible in many ways--and Kincaid, as a colonial subject in Antigua, was raised with the notion that she must try to be British but, at the same time, could never be British enough. As each author attempts to figure out who she is and communicate that self through autobiography, she draws the audience into the process as she revisits and in many cases revises her life story. In addition to offering the opportunity to view the relationship between the autobiographer and her reading audience long-term, the serial autobiographies studied here provide unique glimpses into the various ways in which the autobiographer's attitude toward truth affects the structure of an autobiographical project. In each case, the author's stance on the issue of truth--combined with the above-mentioned relationship with the reading audience--has a direct impact on the overall structure that the project takes. By following these projects over a period of many years, we are able to watch the ways in which the authors' attitudes toward truth change over time and how these attitudes directly contribute to the construction of the long-term project itself.  

  • The Serial Autobiographies of Mary McCarthy, Kate Millett, Julia Alvarez, and Jamaica Kincaid

    Author:
    Karin Kohlmeier
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    The Serial Autobiographies of Mary McCarthy, Kate Millett, Julia Alvarez, and Jamaica Kincaid explores the writings of four authors, each of whom wrote multiple autobiographical works. It argues that the serial autobiographer depends on her relationship with her reading audience and that the reader is an essential component of the long-term autobiographical project. In each case, the autobiographer uses her audience as a mirror in which to view herself as who she is changes over time. The four authors discussed in this dissertation provide particularly illuminating examples of the autobiographical self-in-process, as they all write their autobiographies with the explicitly stated purpose of figuring out who they are. McCarthy writes as an orphan who yearns to know who she is and where she came from but does not have the aid of the "family memory" that comes with having parents. Millett struggles with the identity of "lesbian feminist," a term that described two incompatible camps within political activism when she was writing in the 1970's; she also writes as a means of coping with severe depression and mental illness as well as the loss of self that she felt occurred after her doctoral dissertation, published as Sexual Politics, made her famous. Alvarez and Kincaid both use writing to grapple with racial/national identities that represent complex positions. In Alvarez's case, she is expected to be both Dominican and American--identities which are incompatible in many ways--and Kincaid, as a colonial subject in Antigua, was raised with the notion that she must try to be British but, at the same time, could never be British enough. As each author attempts to figure out who she is and communicate that self through autobiography, she draws the audience into the process as she revisits and in many cases revises her life story. In addition to offering the opportunity to view the relationship between the autobiographer and her reading audience long-term, the serial autobiographies studied here provide unique glimpses into the various ways in which the autobiographer's attitude toward truth affects the structure of an autobiographical project. In each case, the author's stance on the issue of truth--combined with the above-mentioned relationship with the reading audience--has a direct impact on the overall structure that the project takes. By following these projects over a period of many years, we are able to watch the ways in which the authors' attitudes toward truth change over time and how these attitudes directly contribute to the construction of the long-term project itself.  

  • Twentieth-Century Catalogs: The Poetics of Listing, Enumeration, and Copiousness in Joyce, Schuyler, McCourt, Pynchon, and Perec

    Author:
    Timothy Krause
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the occurrence of catalogs and lists in the literary works of several twentieth-century authors, including James Joyce, poet James Schuyler, novelist and cultural historian James McCourt, the postmodern fabulist Thomas Pynchon, and the French experimental prose author Georges Perec. The dissertation seeks to trace how each author makes use of catalogs in his work, how catalogs form a central part of his style and subject matter, and how his use of catalogs can be read against the biographical, historical, and social contexts surrounding his life and work. A theoretical introduction situates my work among theorists of epistemology, narrative, objectification, and desire, theorists such as Foucault (order and classification), Deleuze and Guattari (rhizome vs. root systems), and Susan Stewart (the impulse toward collecting, the gigantic). Catalogs and lists are shown to be modes of literary representation with a millennial past, dating all the way back to Homer, and with strikingly contemporary resonances, especially for twentieth-first-century readers and critics living in the wake of Modernism and postmodernism.

  • Witness to the Mad City Asylums: Composing the Self in Early Cold War Madhouse Literature

    Author:
    Kevin Lambert
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    “Witness to the Mad City Asylums” examines a wide range of autobiographical and biographical texts--fictional, nonfictional, and poetic--written by and about women and men who were institutionalized as “mad” in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Placing emphasis on contemporary discourses of sex/uality, marriage, family, and psychiatry, the project closely considers the generic, institutional, and cultural forms within which new kinds of literature take shape. It focuses, for instance, on the appearance of several new subgenres of “madhouse literature” in the texts of mostly noncanonical writers, including Mary Jane Ward, Fritz Peters, Paul and Marie Hackett, Carl Solomon, and Allen Ginsberg. These writers adopt a variety of literary strategies in order to resist the notion of identity as self-contained, a resistance that is particularly evident in their in/ability to form interpersonal bonds, blur the worlds inside and outside the madhouse, and incorporate or exclude the perspectives of their fellow patients, family members, and hospital staff. They also evade the demands of linguistic and literary conventions and prevailing scientific and popular psychiatric discourses by creating a distance between their “sane” and “mad” selves which enables them to write with the authority of a (former) mental patient without being regarded as an unreliable “madman.” By destabilizing binaries such as in/sanity, writer/subject, self/other, and inside/outside the mental institution, multiplications of the self in these texts suggest productive new readings of categories of identity and difference in and beyond madhouse literature. In closely examining this body of texts, it becomes possible to recuperate an important chapter in the history of twentieth-century literature and culture.

  • Beautiful Bootstraps: The Uneven Climb of Four Basic Writers In An Urban College

    Author:
    Ann Larson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ira Shor
    Abstract:

    BEAUTIFUL BOOTSTRAPS: THE UNEVEN CLIMB OF FOUR BASIC WRITERS IN AN URBAN COLLEGE by Ann Larson This dissertation presents a study of four first-generation, immigrant college students at a non- selective, urban college. These students' stories of academic success and failure intersect with and diverge from the dominant narrative of education as a pathway to middle-class professions. The students profiled in this dissertation, two men and two women, often struggle with economic and vocational anxiety as they seek college credentials. The impact of gender, race, class, and immigrant status crosses the borders of their separate experiences to help explain the material conditions in which they strive to improve their lives and the lives of their families. To examine the dynamics of their academic and vocational outcomes, this dissertation draws from critical social theory that embeds individual experiences in a broad context of race, gender, and class inequality in the US. To discuss these students' literate backgrounds and their college experiences as readers and writers, this dissertation is also informed by research in the field of Composition and Rhetoric, particularly the sub-field of basic writing, a contentious practice that goes back at least forty years. While closely following four basic writers, this dissertation also explores the methodological and theoretical questions raised by ethnography, case study method, and critical discourse analysis and proposes some orientations for future research into the relationship between non-selective higher education and upward mobility.

  • Exceptional Conversations: Classical Music and the Historical Imagination of Narrative Cinema

    Author:
    Matthew Lau
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joshua Wilner
    Abstract:

    "Exceptional Conversations: Classical Music and the Historical Imagination of Narrative Cinema" examines the ways in which film and music are bound together in their histories, forms, and meanings. More specifically it describes and interprets how music figures in some of the most singular directors' films and it traces the various appearances of equally singular composers' works in film. Thus, my dissertation includes chapters on Richard Wagner, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc Godard, and Michael Haneke as well as sustained interpretations of music's role in films by Charlie Chaplin, Francis Ford Coppola and several documentaries by Werner Herzog, among others. My thesis is that the cinema is a contested realization of Wagner's idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Cinema is "the art work of the future," but not the one Wagner imagined. I thus argue for a definition of cinema form and history that reserves a more pivotal role for classical music in cinema than has been previously proposed.

  • Drawing Conclusions: Visual Literacy in Ficition

    Author:
    Emily Lauer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Greetham
    Abstract:

    In "Drawing Conclusions," I engage in an interdisciplinary examination of the words and pictures in four Victorian masterpieces of the illustrated novel, arguing that the unique publishing situation of each of these texts and the very different interactions between the authors and illustrators of each have resulted in four distinct examples of the functions illustrations in fiction can fulfill. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, written by Dickens and illustrated by Browne, among others, was published in 1836. Once Browne became involved in the project, Dickens established a working relationship between them in which he provided lengthy descriptions of scenes to be illustrated - sometimes of scenes not yet written - and it became Browne's job to interpret these descriptions. I posit that in Pickwick Papers, which became paradigmatic for later illustrated serial novels, the illustrations function as a sort of running commentary on the written text, complicating the idea of a division of labor between words and pictures even as the illustrations played up some of the same visual thematic elements in Dickens' written text. In Vanity Fair, written and illustrated by Thackeray a decade after Pickwick Papers was published, I find that Thackeray's full-page captioned plates and smaller vignettes both reinforce and add nuance to the written text, by creating tone and allegory. Thackeray also begins each chapter with a historiated initial - an illustrated capital that combines the functions of letter and picture in a way requiring readerly participation. Here, the many illustrations by the author are integral to an understanding of the novel. The reader must collaborate with the text in order to process both the word and picture at the same time. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll, contains 42 illustrations by John Tenniel. Because their intended audience was children, and because Carroll acknowledged Tenniel's greater experience in publishing matters, the author and illustrator of Wonderland were very mindful of the effect of their collaboration. I argue that the result is a combination of word and picture in which the pictorial representation of the protagonist melds with her written representation to form two views on one solid and realistic subject, reinforcing Alice's normality as she explores a strange dreamworld. Finally, I discuss an edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813), published with illustrations by Hugh Thomson in 1894. The hundreds of line drawings in this edition draw attention to those aspects of the novel's plot most interesting to Thomson's late Victorian readership. The subtle gloss provided by these illustrations affected the way Austen entered the literary canon as well as the way Thomson's audience thought about Austen's own priorities. Ultimately, the four different scenarios I address - Dickens instructing his illustrator in an imperious manner, Thackeray illustrating his own written text, Carroll and Tenniel collaborating closely, and Hugh Thomson modifying Austen to suit his contemporary readership - each result in a different role for the illustrations in the narrative. In "Drawing Conclusions," I draw the conclusion that pictures can comment on, complicate, reinforce or update a written text based on the situation in which the written text and illustrations are combined.

  • Occupy Wall Street's Challenge to an American Public Transcript

    Author:
    Christopher Leary
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ira Shor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the rhetoric and discourses of the anti-corporate movement Occupy Wall Street, using frameworks from political ethnography and critical discourse analysis to offer a thick, triangulated description of a single event, Occupy Wall Street's occupation of Zuccotti Park. The study shows how Occupy achieved a disturbing positionality relative to the forces which routinely dominate public discourse and proposes that Occupy's encampment was politically intolerable to the status quo because the movement held the potential to consolidate critical thought and action. Because the "soft" means of re-capturing public consent were weak in 2011 because of the 2008 economic collapse, the dominant figure in this encounter, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, led the way to instruments of "hard" persuasion, culminating in the orchestrated assault carried out on November 15th, an operation that saw the media sequestered, at night, in the dark, with no filmed images allowed or possible, and all street access blocked to supporters of Occupy. The use of "hard persausion" by the authorities in response to Occupy's discursive threat clarifies how reality is constituted through discursive and material action and suggests that alternative discourse and action has the power to reconstitute reality, redistributing power and working in opposition to human suffering and oppression.

  • Reading Nation in Translation: The Spectral Transnationality of the Malaysian Racial Imaginary

    Author:
    Fiona Lee
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    In recent decades, literary studies has experienced a global turn, often understood as a move beyond national paradigms of analysis, which are deemed to be narrow and particularistic. Although wary of the tacit universalizing tendencies of global frames, scholars of race and postcoloniality have critically embraced the global by arguing for the need to theorize transnationalism from marginalized perspectives. However, casting the global and the national in oppositional terms ignores the fact that national racial ideologies both actively shape and are shaped by globally circulating ideas about race. An understudied site in postcolonial studies, Malaysia--formerly known as Malaya--is an exemplary case that unsettles this binary opposition. Informed by racialized distinctions between "native" and "migrants" inherited from colonial rule, the constitutionalized "special position" of "bumiputera" (literally sons of the earth or autochthonous group) citizens effectively renders race a defining aspect of national identity. This dissertation presents translation as an entry point into theorizing the relation between the national and the global in the production of the Malaysian racial imaginary. Drawing on theories of cultural translation, I begin with the premise that translation is a process of figuration, rather than a transfer of uncontaminated cultural essence, from one mode of signification to another. Through analyses of graphic narratives, novels and films, I consider how various modes of translation are used in these texts both to articulate a common national identity that unifies these groups, and, at the same time, to maintain their racialized distinctions. I argue that discerning the modes of translation embedded in the process of national identity formation--what I call, reading nation in translation--elucidates the transnational historical forces, be it the reordering of the British Empire amidst its impending end; the burgeoning global Cold War; or the intensification of global financial capitalism in the late twentieth-century, that shape the national racial imaginary. Reading nation in translation thus contributes toward a critical conception of transnationalism, one that not only presents the nation and the global as oppositional frames of analysis, but as mutually haunting one another. In foregrounding the global forces, both past and present, that animate the national racial imaginary, it also argues for the importance of attending to processes of racialization as a mode of globalization.