Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • A Critical and Cultural Poetics of the End: Self, Space, and Volatility in Los Angeles

    Author:
    Pamela Albanese
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    A Critical and Cultural Poetics of the End: Self, Space, and Volatility in Los Angeles delineates the correspondences between Los Angeles spaces--exterior, topographical, architectural, and imaginary--and aspects of the self--interiority, identity, experience, and desire--in fictional and non-fictional depictions of Los Angeles. Through close readings of key Los Angeles novels, essays, and films, this project emphasizes how the narrative "I" traverses urban space, focusing on the dissolution of boundaries between self and place. Los Angeles' sprawling, decentralized layout and rapidly-shifting landscape have a profound influence on narrative identity, generating a volatile and disquieting sense of self; this project also explores how the city's unique spatial orientation contributes to a literature and cinema of disillusionment exclusive to Los Angeles.

  • Making Conversation: The Poetics of Voice in Modernist Fiction

    Author:
    Elizabeth Alsop
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the function of dialogue within modernist fiction, and argues that it can be seen to assume a substantially expanded and diversified role in early twentieth-century narrative texts. While existing accounts of fictional speech stress its capacity to develop character or advance plot, I contend that modernist authors began using speech differently than it had historically been used in the novel: less for characterizing and plot-advancing purposes, than for rhetorical and poetic ones. My primary case studies include a cross-section of British and American modernist texts - including Henry James's The Ambassadors, Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, James Joyce's "The Dead," Virginia Woolf's The Waves, and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! - as well as examples from post-War Italian narrative, which reflect the influence of Anglophone modernism. Through close, comparative analyses of how fictional voice is deployed in these texts, and by drawing on a range of literary and narrative theory (by Mikhail Bakhtin, Franco Moretti, and Sharon Cameron among others) I demonstrate that these writers frequently "make" conversation less to express character, than to communicate ideas or affects that exceed character. In particular, I disclose the tendency for discourse within these fictional environments to belong to more than one speaker - or conversely, to none. By challenging the attributive logic used to make sense of represented speech, these texts encourage us to refocus our critical attention away from discrete utterances, and toward the larger system of utterances that emerges in a given work. In this way, I argue, modernist fiction seems to demand (and reward) a new mode of reading and interpreting fictional dialogue: one which takes into account how characters say, as well as what they say, and which treats dialogue's form as at least as rich a source of meaning as its content.

  • The Politics of Laughter in Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso" and Cervantes' "Don Quixote"

    Author:
    Rosa Amatulli
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Clare Carroll
    Abstract:

    Abstract The Politics of Laughter in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Cervantes' Don Quixote By Rosa Amatulli Adviser: Professor Clare Carroll This dissertation explores the function of laughter in the Orlando Furioso and Don Quixote. Contrary to those who consider laughter an emotional release devoid of social and political importance, this study will show that laughter is a very powerful social and political world view. For Ariosto and Cervantes laughter was a most appropriate literary vehicle with which to respond to the great social and political changes of their time. Embodying the political climate of their milieu, their characters are ridiculous because they fail to be political in the Platonic-Aristotelian sense of the word politiké and because they fail to engage with the political life of their communities. These characters are idions, that is to say, they are ridiculously unethical: they are irresponsible and apolitical, and as such they are ridiculed. In order to understand the social-political aspects of laughter, we will first have to answer the question, what is a system of ethics. A system of ethics aims to prescribe the right kind of social action according to different situations: political, military, economic, etc. Plato's and Aristotle's philosophies, and Pico della Mirandola's and Leonardo Bruni's theories, will demonstrate that systems of ethics are not transcendental but answer to different situations, and that an ethics is the prescription for social behavior and not merely individual behavior. For example, the knights in the Orlando Furioso are ridiculous for two main reasons: one, because they are swayed by their appetites and two, because they are not loyal to the principles of knighthood, and specifically to their political, ethical and moral duties. Don Quixote, on the other hand, is ridiculous for opposite reasons. Forgetful or, neglectful of the contemporary social and economic life-world around him, Don Quixote is obsessively loyal to a set of ethics relevant only to chivalry, and not to his contemporary society. Thus, while the knights in the Orlando Furioso are derided for being individualistic and devoid of any high ideals, for failing to behave in ways conducive to the common good, Don Quixote suffers ridicule for being too idealistic and for attempting to enforce certain ideals that have no relevance given the contemporary state of affairs--illustrative of the fact that moral values and ideology are historically bound. Four chapters constitute the main body of this dissertation: Chapter I is devoted to Plato and Aristotle's conceptualization of ethics and laughter and, Chapter II is dedicated to the Renaissance understanding of political and ethical agency in the philosophies of Leonardo Bruni and Pico della Mirandola. After proposing the relationship between politics and ethics in the first two chapters, Chapter III analyzes the ridiculous behavior of the idions in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Chapter IV analyzes the honorable--yet foolish conduct of the knight in Cervantes' Don Quixote.

  • "Double Consciousness" and "Dual-Voice": Ambivalence and Free Indirect Style in Novels and Films

    Author:
    Leah Anderst
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Andre Aciman
    Abstract:

    This project compares and analyzes five novels and three films: Jane Austen's Emma, Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education and Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl, Alain Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's Memories of Underdevelopment and Eric Rohmer's My Night at Maud's. This dissertation describes a link between the uses of free indirect style, a "dual-voiced" narrative mode that combines two distinct perspectives into one instance of discourse: that of a narrator and that of a character, and psychological ambivalence, the back and forth wavering of a fictional character. This dissertation focuses on novels and narrative fiction films that center on one character, and it shows the ways in which these works call attention to a character's ambivalence and hesitations while relying on free indirect style, a formally ambivalent narrative mode, to expose and, at times, to create ambivalence in the mind of the reader or viewer. As an interdisciplinary project, this dissertation locates free indirect style in prose and cinematic narration, and it also explores the implications of analyzing a traditionally linguistic and literary mode within cinema.

  • A SPIRIT OF THE EARTH: VITALISM IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE

    Author:
    Anastassiya Andrianova
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Felicia Bonaparte
    Abstract:

    A Spirit of the Earth: Vitalism in Nineteenth-Century Literature studies a movement that began in reaction to Mechanism, the view that all natural phenomena, including life, could be explained by observable physical causes. Due to its emphasis on material causation, Mechanism is interchangeable with empiricism, which holds that knowledge is based on experience and regular observation, and, by extension, with the Positivist application of the scientific method outside the natural world. Unlike the Mechanists, Vitalist scientists insisted that there was more to life than physico-chemical processes; life demanded a special cause: what Henri Bergson called the élan vital and Bernard Shaw--"the Life Force." What started in science acquired much broader philosophical ramifications. Vitalism became the sole source of hope for writers, philosophers, and artists committed to deeper questions of being who found it morally objectionable to turn to empiricism and mechanistic science for answers. Mechanism was objectionable on several counts. It emphasized the external over the internal, and framed our connection to the world as that of a subject observing a dead nature. Second, it denied human and artistic freedom, reducing agency to reflex action. Third, it denied existence any higher purpose: Charles Darwin, in Samuel Butler's famous accusation, banished Mind from the universe and replaced it with random selection, thereby raising ethical and existential questions. The nineteenth-century authors examined in this dissertation (George Meredith, Leo Tolstoy, Butler, and Shaw) did not reject science altogether and were drawn to contemporary evolutionary theories; seeing nature as a living being, they reinvented science and gave evolution a purpose, claiming that we could reconnect with nature through instinct, not reason, and becoming part of this organism, come to know it as well as ourselves. As a philosophy, Vitalism allowed them to expose everything unnatural: from abstract theories to outdated social institutions; as an aesthetic, it gave them an imagistic language to embody what Walter Pater called the "spirit of the Earth" in women, children, and child-like individuals. Each chapter reflects a separate area of Vitalist critique: the philosophy of science; poetry; the spiritual quest; Victorian education; and social evolution.

  • Postmodern Metafiction Revisited

    Author:
    Lissi Athanasiou Krikelis
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Mary Caws
    Abstract:

    By its ostensible definition, metafiction is fiction that dramatizes its own construction, proffering constant reminders of its artificiality. The term "metafiction," however, is hardly transparent. "Metafiction" is in danger of having an array of definitions, and, because it is believed to be equated with postmodern fiction, it is often associated with the literature of the eighties and therefore appears outdated. Through an examination of various novels mainly from the twentieth century and literature of the West, this dissertation unifies the multiple definitions that have been assigned to the term and provides a typology that facilitates the identification of the metafictional novel. In addition, this dissertation revisits certain assumptions that have clung to the term arbitrarily, namely that metafiction is ahistorical and apolitical because it is self-referential. Beginning with a theoretical approach that views metafiction as a postmodern phenomenon borrowing from structural and post-structural thought, this study comparatively explores metafiction's most recent manifestations and concludes by questioning metafiction's affinity to postmodernism. Moreover, this study identifies and explores two new examples of metafiction, the metaautobiographical novel and the post-millenium metafictional novel. The metaautobiographical novel is a hybrid genre, where a fictional author-character reconstructs their biographical record through the act of writing fiction. For a metaautobiographical protagonist, fiction cannot define the self nor write the past, but is bound to reinvent both, thus turning itself into a what-if version of the protagonist's reality. In the wake of conversations that explore the potential death of postmodernity, post-millennium (or post-technological) metafiction can be contrasted to postmodern metafiction. It deviates from postmodern practices by responding to technology and by combining its astute fictionality with the dramatic realization that fictionality and reality converge in the realm of fiction. Whereas postmodern metafiction projects that the world may be a fictional construction, post-millenium metafiction proclaims that even highly self-reflexive texts share a profound relation with the world, influencing and affecting what lies beyond them.

  • The Ethical Pact: Storytelling in Contemporary Autobiography

    Author:
    Veruska Cantelli
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Abstract The Ethical Pact: Storytelling in Contemporary Autobiography by Veruska Cantelli Advisor: Ammiel Alcalay In the last thirty years a body of work has developed about autobiography as a literary genre and its ontological value. Philippe Lejeune's essay "The Autobiographical Pact" is now a classic in autobiographical studies. The essay was published in 1975 and translated into English in 1989 when it was anthologiesed by Paul John Eakin with its revision "The Autobiographical Pact (bis)" in which Lejeune revisits his original formalist definition of autobiography. James Olney's edited volume Autobiography, Essays Theoretical and Critical published in 1980 is generally recognized as the beginning of autobiography studies in the United States. The book, which does not include Lejeune's essay, represents an important ground for the study of autobiography and for its place as a genre distinct from the novel, a genre that, as Olney states, "like the life it mirrors refuses to stay still long enough for the genre critic to fit it out with the necessary rules, laws, contracts, and pacts [my emphasis]; it refuses, simply, to be a literary genre like any other." (Autobiography, Essays Theoretical and Critical, 25) In his introduction to the collected essays, Olney relates his experience in reading, and later translating, the 1956 important essay "Conditions et limites de l'autobiographie" by French critic Georges Gusdorf, "In translating `Conditions et limites de l'autobiographie' into English for the present volume, I have been repeatedly astonished at the overwhelming similarities between that essay and my book." (Autobiography, Essays Theoretical and Critical, 10). With this statement Olney endorses Gusdorf's problematic views on autobiography as an act of "conscious awareness", not possible "in a cultural landscape where consciousness of self does not, properly speaking, exist. But this unconsciousness of personality, characteristic of primitive societies such as ethnologists describes to us, lasts also in more advanced civilizations that subscribe to mythic structures, they too being governed by the principle of repetition." ("Conditions and Limits of Autobiography", 31) Gusdorf's view leaves out the rest of the nonwestern world and creates an image of the autobiographical self as male, isolated, individualistic. In my dissertation I seek to further discuss Eakin's work on the relationality of the self. I will show how in a small group of 20th century autobiographies such as Dust Tracks on a Road, Family Sayings, Borderlands/LaFrontera, Storyteller and Keeping House stories come to express or represent the relation between the identity of the self and the community. I will examine the ways in which these relations are manifested in the body of the text. Stories of mythological figures as Yellow Woman in Leslie Marmon Silko's Storyteller and stories of family members as in Natalia Ginzburg's Family Sayings passed down from one generation to the next, provide the foundation of the history of a community and/or a family. As Mary Mason observed, female authors use stories to affirm their identity, but the stories used by the authors aforementioned, come straight from the traditions, myths and rituals shared with the community to which they belong and form an essential point of junction with its members. These autobiographies besides representing the story of the life of the author, delineate and affirm the history of a family and a community; they take on the characteristics and functions of storytelling, those of counseling, teaching, comforting and critiquing.

  • Dead Man's Space and the Language of Democracy on the American Frontier

    Author:
    Daniel Colleran
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    Daniel E. Colleran "Dead Man's Space and the Language of Democracy on the American Frontier" Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1995) borrows its artistic vision from the works of Francophone poet, writer, and painter Henri Michaux (1899-1984) and English Romantic poet, painter, and engraver William Blake (1757-1827). It does so through a series of verbal and visual incorporations. Both poets emphasize the ability of language to either stabilize or destabilize our perception of the world. Blake understands art as something that enhances human vision beyond linguistic conventions and social institutions. Michaux's work positions language as something that can resist and confront the reified familiarities of everyday existence, jar congealed conventions of society, or negotiate the abyssal absurdity of life. Both poets consistently employ two sets of tropes; one composed of figures of fluidity, transgression, and expansion and the other composed of figures of containment and delimitation. These tropes, which are employed to illustrate a tension that arises from our inability to fully envision the world through language, resonate forcefully in the film and against the history of the Western as a genre that is bound up with space and its ideological representations. They generate reflection on the space of the American West and explore how such a space is linguistically produced, contained, and expanded. Through a close reading of word and image, my dissertation renders the effect of Blake and Michaux's figurative language on the cinematic space of Dead Man. This reading focuses on the tension between the compulsion to transgress boundaries and the desire to contain and delimit an immutable worldview. The overriding argument of the dissertation is that the film's movement from the figurative language of fixity, containing, and sheltering, to the figurative language of openness, fluidity, transgression, and incommensurability, and finally, the cyclic movement back to the beginning of the film's narrative, reflects the formation of the social landscape of an American past and present that is bound up with the tension of these disparate figures. Dead Man illustrates the impulse to bound and preserve very singular and institutionalized readings of an idealized past and the almost insatiable desire for endless expansion. The film journeys through these defining characteristics of American experience, which form irresolvable tensions that lie at the heart of any national narrative, whether negotiated openly and consciously or as hidden traces that haunt the productions of its discursive socio-political fabric.

  • On Historical Thought in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Percy Bysshe Shelley

    Author:
    Michael Demson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Joshua Wilner
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines Jean-Jacques Rousseau's and Percy Bysshe Shelley's complex involvement with the politics of historical representation and of historiography in general. It demonstrates how both authors repeatedly offered alternative visions of history so as to contradict prevailing meta-narratives about social progress in eighteenth-century France and, subsequently for Shelley, in early nineteenth-century England. Their historical thought not only shaped the political arguments they put to their own contemporaries, but also provides us with a framework in which to reconfigure their political relevance today. In this way, this dissertation responds to the work of James Swenson, Susan Wolfson, Mark Kipperman, and Jerome Christensen, by offering a new direction for the recent critical debate about the political potency of Romantic texts in the twenty-first century. The first two chapters explore Rousseau and Shelley's interest in histories that are politically contentious and how they construct their political arguments as well as their own political identities within historical frameworks. The third chapter charts the intellectual history that links the planting of corn, or large-scale agriculture, with imperial progress, starting with Defoe, who celebrates corn in Robinson Crusoe as Providence's prompt for Western colonial expansion. In his discourse on inequality, Rousseau historicizes the planting of corn, or blé, as the moment of social and economic debasement and corruption, thereby rejecting Defoe's politics and vision of historical progress. Shelley's father-in-law, William Godwin, delineates in his historical novel, St. Leon, the process by which governments have subjugated populations through subsidizing large-scale agriculture time and time again. The forth chapter lays out how Shelley adopts the radical agrarian politics of Rousseau and Godwin, and the historical frameworks in which these politics are configured, in such melancholy reflections on social degeneration. The final chapter argues that Shelley's historical drama, The Cenci, is not only a critique of the degeneration of popular theater, but also a radical recasting of theatrical poetics that agitates for a political response from the audience through a reenactment of social history.

  • MAPPING ITALIAN WOMEN'S FILMMAKING: URBAN SPACE IN THE CINEMA OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM

    Author:
    Laura Di Bianco
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Giancarlo Lombardi
    Abstract:

    My dissertation lies at the intersection of Italian studies, film studies, women's studies, and urban studies. Applying gender studies and feminist theoretical perspectives, I trace a thematic map of contemporary Italian women's cinema (2000-2012) that investigates female subjectivity in urban contexts. Examining the works of the filmmakers Marina Spada, Francesca Comencini, Wilma Labate, Roberta Torre, and Alice Rohrwacher, I identify a common tendency to treat locations like characters, apply similar modalities of incorporating city-views into the narration, and recurrently construct parallels between physical journeys through cities and inner journeys of the self. As a prism through which to look at contemporary Italian society, the city articulates themes such as women's alienation and social invisibility, the challenge of reconciling motherhood and paid work, the debasement of the female body, and the role of institutions such as the Church and the family. The most prominent visual leitmotif in this cinematic production is that of the wandering woman contemplating the cityscape. What does walking signify in these works? During the women's liberation movement of the late sixties and seventies, the appropriation of public space was a form of resistance to patriarchal confinement of women to domestic spaces. The act of female `streetwalking,' typically associated with prostitution, was re-configured as an act of self-liberation. Through a close reading of the films, I argue that female flânerie, in all the articulations it takes in each film, represents an act of emancipation, an act of introspection, and a search for position in society. Furthermore, the image of the woman contemplating the city signifies, for filmmakers who struggle to appropriate the medium of film and carve a space in a male-dominated industry, an assertion of authorship. By identifying these female authorial voices and a common aesthetic project, my dissertation aims to address the knowledge gap about women's artistic expression while leading to a more complex understanding of Italian contemporary cinema.