Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Reading Cruft: A Cognitive Approach to the Mega-Novel

    Author:
    David Letzler
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Gerhard Joseph
    Abstract:

    Reading Cruft offers a new critical model in which to examine a genre vital to modern literature, the mega-novel. Building on theoretical work in both cognitive narratology and cognitive poetics, it argues that the mega-novel is primarily characterized by its inclusion of a substantial amount of pointless text ("cruft"), which it uses to challenge its readers' abilities to modulate their attention and rapidly shift their modes of text processing. Structured into five chapters respectively devoted to subgenres in which mega-novels have been grouped--the dictionary novel, the encyclopedic novel, the Menippean satire, the picaresque and frame-tale, and the epic and allegory--it demonstrates how these books make substantial use of their generic elements but also include text that fails to either fulfill or subvert their most crucial elements, rendering much of their text into excess that cannot be deeply processed. However, mega-novels also contain text that, though appearing to be cruft, is actually quite important, forcing readers to subtly distinguish between the text that does require deep attention and that which does not. This requires readers to develop more sophisticated procedures of attentional modulation in text processing. Reading Cruft argues that the education of attention this process prompts can aid readers in learning to manage the information overload that increasingly characterizes every aspect of contemporary life.

  • Familiar Estrangements: Reading Family in Middle English Romance

    Author:
    Gary Lim
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    This dissertation, Familiar Estrangements: Reading Family in Middle English Romance, explores the varied representations of marriage and family in Middle English romance. While Middle English romances often act with disciplinary force to cultivate and popularize ideals about the family, many romances also stand in ambivalent relationship to this disciplinary function. Even if they end up valorizing the nuclear family, they do so through circuitous routes—such as depicting surrogate father–child relationships, inter-racial marriages, the loss of family members, and adultery—as they imagine alternatives means by which families cohere. The chapters take up each of these themes in turn, through readings that are historicized against political and social realities, and informed by psychoanalytic theory. The dissertation begins with a discussion of how three popular romances—Sir Tryamour, Sir Cleges, and Sir Isumbras—idealize the nuclear family so as to advance the interests of their likely audience, the bourgeois-gentry class. Chapter two shows how this idealization is problematized, tracing the alternatives to nuclear families by examining the presence of surrogate fathers in Havelok the Dane, King Horn, and Bevis of Hampton, contextualizing this against the practice of wardship in the thirteenth century. The next chapter reads the inter-religious marriages of The King of Tars, The Sultan of Babylon, and Richard Coer de Lyon, arguing that the anxieties over inter-religious marriage and miscegenation reflect England's evolving attitudes towards its French heritage over the course of the Hundred Years War. Chapter four focuses on a single romance—Gower's "Apollonius of Tyre"—arguing that how the loss of family members is memorialized creates a 'virtual' family that is turned towards political ends. Chapter five examines how adultery is related to the conception of the family in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, contextualizing the work against the dynastic strife created by the Wars of the Roses. In general, the thesis argues that while ecclesiastical ideas about the family in the high and late Middle Ages began to produce what we would now recognize as nuclear families, the Middle English romance remained a vigorous site where alternatives to doctrinal ideals about the family were imagined.

  • Metachromatics: Applied Color Across Media in the Age of Composite Pictures (1839-1935)

    Author:
    Robert Machado
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation articulates an analytic for observing, measuring, contextualizing, recovering, and re-purposing chromatic fields within and across a variety of media and disciplines. Drawing on recent strategies within visual culture studies, including postclassical narratology, this framework adapts the historical division in aesthetics between color, and line and form, to examine color's differential status within verbal and visual expression and the social formations that its relations reflect, reinforce, or challenge. This enduring theoretical binarization--variously iterated and deployed at least since Antiquity--organizes an "inherent" opposition between color and line and form whose representation, by iconic analogy, has been used to assimilate and naturalize other binarically- construed ontologies, including identity formations, divisions of labor, and social hierarchies. In part because of its phenomenal instability, color within this discourse often functions as an especially receptive space into which constructions of non-figurability, alterity, abstraction, allusion, "essence," and desire are projected and inscribed. Opposite the indexical line and form of early photography and early cinema before the rise of "natural color" processes (1839-1935), and the "line and form" of narrative according to dominant theories of narratology, chromatic additions can be seen exemplifying this function. This dissertation tests the uses of this analytic within these media, and within considerations of intertexts and critical commentary that include intersections of realist and local color literature, Symbolist theater and painting, ekphrastic poetry, theories of art and sciences of vision, early photo-cinematic color labor, classical and postclassical narrative theory, and experimental methodologies of reading/reception.

  • Camp, the Canon, and a Performative Burlesque: Paula Vogel's Plays as Literary and Cultural Revision

    Author:
    Joanna Mansbridge
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Savran
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the ways in which Paula Vogel's plays respond to and rewrite canonical texts, while simultaneously addressing contemporary concerns, such as domestic violence, pornography, pedophilia, and AIDS. Vogel's dialectical writing strategy encourages the audience to look at these cultural issues from a defamiliarized, historical perspective, so that they are seen less as sensationalized "issues" and more as historical questions that have accumulated meanings over time. In addition, since many of her plays rewrite texts by such canonical giants as Shakespeare, Edward Albee, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet, to engage with Vogel is to engage with the canon of theatre and literary studies, as it is restaged in a different historical context and recast with women at the center of the action. Responding to a predominantly male canon, Vogel shifts the focus away from an often universalized, truth-seeking male protagonist, placing women center stage, not as valorized heroines, but as conflicted characters who both enact and resist the discourses that constitute their bodies and identities. Thus, the overarching goal of this study is to examine the ways in which the dialectical structure and dramaturgical strategies of Vogel's plays offer another way of looking at the literary canon, social history, and contemporary American culture. Since Vogel's plays rewrite canonical texts, position women center stage, present polymorphous sexualities, and mobilize humor to approach uncomfortable topics, her plays employ a dramaturgical strategy that I am calling a "performative burlesque." While camp is the broader aesthetic within which Vogel works, burlesque foregrounds an eroticized female spectacle. A performative burlesque, as it operates in Vogel's plays, describes: a writing strategy that strips bodies and texts of their accumulated cultural connotations; a comedic blending of high and low forms; a mode of performance describing the ways in which her characters expose themselves, psychically, emotionally, and physically; an extension of a historical theatre practice that continues to inform the cultural meanings around women in performance, both on and off stage.

  • Works in Progress: Child Characters in Victorian and Postcolonial Fiction, 1814 - 2006

    Author:
    Kiran Mascarenhas
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ashley Dawson
    Abstract:

    Abstract Works in Progress: Child Characters in Victorian and Postcolonial Fiction, 1814 - 2006 By Kiran Mascarenhas Advisers: Ashley Dawson, Talia Schaffer In this dissertation I analyze the relationship between national and individual development in Victorian and postcolonial novels set in India. My central argument is that the investment in the idea of progress that characterizes colonial narratives of childhood gives way in postcolonial fiction to a suspicion of dominant understandings of progress, and that this difference is manifest in the identity formation of the child character as well as in the form of the novel. In the Victorian colonial narratives discussed in this study, the bildung of the child involves the overcoming of the child's conflicted cultural identity. The children of the colonial elite are socialized in early years by their Indian caregivers. As the children begin to acquire Indian languages, tastes and mores, however, British adults, driven by cultural anxiety, seek to re-educate and Anglicize the children until there is scarcely a trace of Indian influence in the child's appearance or conduct. Likewise, gender and class identity, though ambiguous in the years of infancy, settles towards the end of a typical colonial narrative. However, the proper classification of the child towards which the colonial novel strains is effected so anxiously that even optimistic colonial narratives like Dinah Mulock Craik's "The Half-Caste" (1857) or Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894) convey an awareness of the fragility of the government of child and colony. Where in Victorian novels children eventually outgrow their hybrid identity, in postcolonial novels the gender, class and national identities of the child-protagonists never quite settle. The final chapter of my dissertation connects the figure of the neglected child in postcolonial fiction with larger questions of nation formation and argues that the veneer of investment in progress evident in Victorian novels has worn away to reveal a ubiquitous, though uneven, sense of betrayal. The chapters are organized around texts produced at moments widely considered critical in the history of colonial India: the missionary tracts produced after the legalization of missionary work in 1813, the emergence of the "post-mutiny boy hero" in the wake of the Revolt of 1857, the repatriation narratives that proliferated in the twilight years of empire, colonial writing by Indian writers at the time of decolonization, and finally postcolonial narratives that layer the problems of liberalization, such as a perceived disconnect between the citizen and the state in an age of transnational capital, with India's colonial past. Contrasted with the understanding of history as a series of critical moments is the narrative of slow violence over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: the gradual degradation of human and environmental rights under first colonial and then postcolonial elite regimes. Finally the dissertation looks for new ways forward from this potentially debilitating understanding of colonial and postcolonial history and literature.

  • How Does It Feel? Rationality and Affectivity in the Birth and Early Development of Rock and Roll

    Author:
    Grant Maxwell
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    Through chapters on Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan, this dissertation examines the hypothesis that the music and culture of rock and roll have mediated a return of intuitive, affective, and somatic epistemological modes discursively repressed in modernity. Employing a theoretical perspective derived from thinkers such as Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, William James, Henri Bergson, and Alfred North Whitehead, it shows how perhaps the preeminent musical genre of the mid-twentieth century enacted a dialectical return to archaic modes of experience as a complement to the privileging of rationalism and materialism since the Enlightenment. At the genre's inception in the mid-nineteen fifties, Elvis Presley participated in one prominent performative inflection of the intimate reintegration of the privileging polarity of rationality over affect that had come to pervade predominant cultural streams in the West over the preceding centuries, exemplified in the Cartesian cogito, the explicit equation of thought with human being in general. Subsequently, the Beatles and Bob Dylan brought this integration to a climax, the Beatles in the more external, social mode of the band, and Dylan in the more internal, introspective mode of the individual singer-songwriter. Along with many other artists, Presley, the Beatles, and Dylan performed a fundamental transformation of culture whose implications still largely condition our aesthetic and psychological experience in the early twenty-first century. Most texts about these three artists (and there are many) are either simple biographical narratives or analyses of music and lyrics, so a similar project would be largely redundant. By contrast, employing the methods of literary criticism, this dissertation primarily explicates the rhetorical nuances of the written and oral narratives about these figures, which obliquely trace a philosophy of rock and roll. That is, rock and roll appears to be both catalyst and expression of a deep and relatively sudden epistemological shift initiated on a mass scale in the mid-twentieth century. Although this shift was presaged by the confluence of many factors--musical, cultural, aesthetic, political, and economic--these elements seem never to have been fully synthesized until the emergence of rock and roll, never fully realized in a single lineage (among other lineages in other media) until Dylan, the Beatles, and others produced complementary syntheses of the mode Presley and his milieu had initiated with numerous other artistic and intellectual movements.

  • Reading for the Pause: The Uses of Suspension in Nineteenth-Century British Poetry

    Author:
    Anne McCarthy
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Yousef
    Abstract:

    Reading for the Pause investigates the relationship among ethics, epistemology, and form in nineteenth-century poetry. Although they represent a number of different genres, the central texts--Coleridge's Christabel, Shelley's "Mont Blanc," Tennyson's Maud, Robert Browning's "An Epistle...of Karshish," and The Prince's Progress by Christina Rossetti--employ paradigmatic techniques, forms, and images of suspension, unsettling habitual patterns of language and knowledge. The pause of suspension, as distinct from the delays of narrative suspense, both marks the site of epistemological crisis and functions as a potentially powerful response to uncertainty that offers alternatives to skeptical detachment. The first two chapters establish suspension within Romantic discourses on the sublime. Coleridge defines the sublime as the "Suspension of our Comparing powers." Christabel--a text identified with both the "willing suspension of disbelief" and presumably unwilled conditions of "suspended animation"--dramatizes the impasse of an ambivalent sublime. The "trance sublime and strange" in "Mont Blanc" has often been taken as a figure for passive receptivity, but a broader consideration of Shelley's poetry reveals suspension to be a creatively enabling, embodied posture. The second half of this project traces the development of suspension as a mode of not-knowing in the poetry of the later nineteenth century. Maud mobilizes images of suspended animation and premature burial in order to draw attention to dilemmas of signification caused by a language whose referential status always remains uncertain. The dramatic monologue "Karshish" has generally been read as a straightforward retelling of Christ's miraculous resurrection of Lazarus, yet a reading attentive to forms of suspension reveals a more complicated approach to gospel truth. Readers must suspend their own religious knowledge and enter into Karshish's drama of uncertainty. The concluding chapter uses suspension to reconsider the manifestations of religious faith in the poetry of Christina Rossetti. Far from reflecting a posture of renunciation and withdrawal, Rossetti's poetic practices reflect a deep engagement with what she elsewhere calls the "divergences" that order the human world. What thus begins as the visionary experience of the Romantic sublime emerges in mid-nineteenth-century poetry as "poetic faith": a posture of awareness, receptivity, and engagement poised between knowing and not knowing.

  • THE PROTEUS OF THE MIND: CREATIVE IMAGINATION IN PSYCHOLOGY AND LITERATURE AT THE FIN DE SIÈCLE

    Author:
    Elizabeth McCormick
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Richard Kaye
    Abstract:

    This project will demonstrate the critical role writers played in the fin de siècle cultural conversation about the mental faculty of creative imagination through an analysis of the many characterizations of artists and scenes of creative action in biographies and fiction written by Oscar Wilde, Jean Lorrain, Una Ashworth Taylor, Rachilde, Maurice Barrès, W.B. Yeats, Arthur Symonds and A. Mary F. Robinson. While earlier philosophic orthodoxy had treated creativity as an essentially mysterious process, by the turn-of-the-century, the agnostic cloud that had settled over a post-Darwinian intelligentsia transformed these earlier notions of creativity in radical ways as biology came to dictate the terms of socio-medical discussions about psychology. New models for the imagination emerged out of the era's discourses about evolution, degeneracy, psychosis and the supernatural. Late 19th century biographies of artists - like those of Ernest Dowson, Rachilde, Emily Brontë and William Blake studied in this project - illustrate many of these new concepts. Jean Lorrain's "The Man Who Made Wax Heads" and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray explore the sexual, psychological and violent dimensions of human creativity. Ideas about gender and creativity in the period were challenged in texts like Rachilde's Monsieur Vénus and Una Ashworth Taylor's "The Truce of God."

  • The Open Wound: Writing Black Female Bodies

    Author:
    Stacie McCormick
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Barbara Webb
    Abstract:

    This study explores the various methods that black women writers use to depict the black female body in pain. Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World theorizes that pain has a language-destroying power and that it often defies expression. Thus, I will argue that in endeavoring to express pain, the writers examined in this study utilize the creative process to work around the barriers presented in the effort to express pain. I discuss various creative approaches that the writers under discussion take up and what results from those approaches. Works examined in this study include: Suzan-Lori Parks' Venus, Robbie McCauley's Sally's Rape, Octavia Butler's Kindred, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Gayl Jones' Corregidora, Edwige Dandicat's Breath, Eyes, Memory, Saidiya Hartman's Lose Your Mother and Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother. The collection of writers that I have assembled for this analysis write the black female body into visibility, narrativize the history of black women's bodies in the West, and illustrate the difficulty in expressing black women's pain. This project will take on a multi-genre approach which includes drama, novels, and non-fiction prose by black women writers. I not only intend to analyze the function of the written word in these works, but with respect to drama, I will analyze how the black female body is presented on stage. Also, I will explore how non-fiction deepens our understanding of fictive works. A multi-genre approach allows for an understanding of how black women's bodies are depicted from several vantage points. In addition to analyzing various approaches to expressing pain, I will consider how these works prompt deeper thought on various theoretical notions such as: the difficulty inherent in rendering experiences of pain into language and the implications of doing so, and whether or not there is potential for healing the historical wounds by grappling with these experiences of pain.

  • "'The Naked Gospel': Varieties of American Religious Poetry, From Richard Henry Dana to Herman Melville

    Author:
    Mark McCullough
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    "'The Naked Gospel': Varieties of American Religious Poetry, From Richard Henry Dana to Herman Melville" examines the term "religious" in nineteenth-century America poetry. Without ignoring the enormous influence of European and British Romanticisms, it positions a rich but neglected body of nineteenth-century American religious verse vis-à-vis American commentary and criticism of the period. It surveys attempts by nineteenth-century American editors and writers to collect and represent a native religious verse and outlines the standards by which an American poem was judged as "religious." These judgments, my study argues, reflect how deeply rooted Romantic thought had become in American denominational identity, even before the influence of Emerson on American culture was widespread, and reveal the extent to which temperament, not theology, was the shared interpretive frame for the selection, as well as the production, of American religious poetry. In light of these views of the period's interpenetration of Romantic thought and American religious identity, my study examines further the verse of three Americans who were identified by their contemporaries as "religious" poets: the contemplative verse of Calvinist-Romantic Richard Henry Dana, the devotional lyrics of Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier, and "The Cathedral," James Russell Lowell's poem which, in narrating a pilgrimage to Chartres, depicts the collision between the ecclesiastical imagination of Anglo-Catholic poetics and the iconoclasm of modern skepticism. Selected for their commitment to an established faith-tradition (Calvinism, Quakerism) or, in the case of "The Cathedral," a recognizable "indebtedness to the faith...eschewed" (Anglo-Catholicism), these religious poems resist the dichotomy between tradition and insight, or the easy passage from doctrine to imagination, and seek insight through available forms of Christian tradition, though not without great difficulty. In keeping with the desire to discuss nineteenth-century American religious verse within an American context, I call upon James, whose work Varieties supplies my study with a critical vocabulary, a structure, and an interpretive frame. Like the religious anthologies outlined in my introduction, James' discussion of religious experience is a compendium of Christian temperaments not theologies, "ways of feeling" religious, not "spiritual." Two of these temperaments, "the sick soul," and "mysticism," along with what James identified as the twin ends of the "ecclesiastical system" and "naked gospel scheme," provide a structure for my study's individual chapters.