Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • L'ossessione della frode. La menzogna nel romanzo moderno

    Author:
    Angelo Raffaele Dicuonzo
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Hermann Haller
    Abstract:

    The subject of the dissertation is the art of lying in literature, specifically in the modern novel and its Italian variant in particular. First, it examines authorial condemnation of the dishonesty of power, its fraudulent ends, means and mechanisms, and second, analyses the language and style employed in such a denouncement, in which the rejection of the artificial quality of literature is itself embedded. In this way, the analysis approaches the age-old question of the relationship of literature to society, underscoring the antagonistic quality of this relationship. Put differently, the investigation keeps history under close scrutiny, while rejecting its fraudulent use, namely its purposeful gaps, forms of accommodation, and rhetoric of progress. The authors and works studied foreground, through their representations of society, the novel's function as a force of opposition, a function that is intent on revealing its own fraudulent structures. From this perspective, I point out the ideological characteristics of the texts under examination, with care, however, no to become entrapped in petty sociology. Instead, my interests are in the ideology of the text, and therefore in those elements constituting textual form, namely, language and style. As a result, the literary text acts on reality with the purpose of offering a fictional solution to the conflict, while truly deepening it. In other words, the novel as a cultural product does not derive directly from the conditions of its production. Between the novel and society is the mediating force of authorial intervention, whereby the rough materials of history are transformed by fictional synthesis into "visions" that reveal the collective cultural anxieties that have summoned the author's response. The denouncement by literature of its own nature as artifice represents the opposite side of the coin. In a century devoted to the novel as the preferred medium of literary expression, authors commit the radical act of denouncing narrative fiction as fraudulent. They thus herald an entire process of self-reflection, designated to exhibit the lies of literature and, in so doing, reveal the compositional principles of deceit.

  • L'ossessione della frode. La menzogna nel romanzo moderno

    Author:
    Angelo Raffaele Dicuonzo
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Hermann Haller
    Abstract:

    The subject of the dissertation is the art of lying in literature, specifically in the modern novel and its Italian variant in particular. First, it examines authorial condemnation of the dishonesty of power, its fraudulent ends, means and mechanisms, and second, analyses the language and style employed in such a denouncement, in which the rejection of the artificial quality of literature is itself embedded. In this way, the analysis approaches the age-old question of the relationship of literature to society, underscoring the antagonistic quality of this relationship. Put differently, the investigation keeps history under close scrutiny, while rejecting its fraudulent use, namely its purposeful gaps, forms of accommodation, and rhetoric of progress. The authors and works studied foreground, through their representations of society, the novel's function as a force of opposition, a function that is intent on revealing its own fraudulent structures. From this perspective, I point out the ideological characteristics of the texts under examination, with care, however, no to become entrapped in petty sociology. Instead, my interests are in the ideology of the text, and therefore in those elements constituting textual form, namely, language and style. As a result, the literary text acts on reality with the purpose of offering a fictional solution to the conflict, while truly deepening it. In other words, the novel as a cultural product does not derive directly from the conditions of its production. Between the novel and society is the mediating force of authorial intervention, whereby the rough materials of history are transformed by fictional synthesis into "visions" that reveal the collective cultural anxieties that have summoned the author's response. The denouncement by literature of its own nature as artifice represents the opposite side of the coin. In a century devoted to the novel as the preferred medium of literary expression, authors commit the radical act of denouncing narrative fiction as fraudulent. They thus herald an entire process of self-reflection, designated to exhibit the lies of literature and, in so doing, reveal the compositional principles of deceit.

  • The Eye, the Street, and the Modern Painter: The City from Poe to Joyce.

    Author:
    Lev Feigin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Lev Feigin
    Abstract:

    This thesis examines the development of the image of the modern metropolis in conjunction with a unique type of literary hero who appears in literature during the eighteenth century: the city spectator. While investigations of the urban observer have surfaced in many divergent contexts and literary periods, most accounts of the subject rely, to varying degrees, on the same core narrative and assumptions implicit to Walter Benjamin's seminal theorizations of the figure of the flâneur. Drawing attention to the distinction between historical and literary spectators of metropolitan spaces, this dissertation proposes an alternative approach to the genesis and development of the figure of the urban observer in Western fiction. Offering a corrective to the discourse of the flâneur, this study argues that the origins of the historical and the literary spectator are dramatically different and evaluates the latter figure as a fluid motif that presupposes a wide range of gradually changing assumptions about subjectivity, visuality, and urban presentation. The dissertation distinguishes three different types of spectators in city texts: 1) the physiognomist of neo-Classical urban sketches and in early realist fiction; 2) the Romantic visionary seer of lyrical verse and late Gothic fiction 3) and the modernist phenomenological observer of the early twentieth-century metropolitan novel. Each mode of city watching is related to three different models of organizing urban experience: the panorama, phantasmagoria, and montage. Contrasting the leisurely flâneur to literary urban beholders of the first half of the nineteenth century, I argue that the latter were a result of a transposition of Romantic sensibility, subjectivity, and modes of visuality from bucolic and dark Gothic settings onto the big city. Tracing the use of the spectatorial persona from William Wordsworth's The Prelude and the tales of Edgar Allan Poe and Nikolai Gogol through Charles Baudelaire's Parisian poems and James Joyce's Ulysses, this dissertation explores the active representational function of the figure of the observer who seeks in the act of looking to transcend his estrangement from the urban community in the mind alone.

  • Surrealist Nonsense As A Genre

    Author:
    Nathalie Fouyer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Mary Ann Caws
    Abstract:

    For the Surrealists, nonsense was a means of transcending a hierarchical reality; rather than being an absence of sense, nonsense became a frustration of constructed expectations about sense. The layered meanings of a word or image in Surrealism generate a world in which no hierarchy or dichotomies exist but rather one where each word and image bears equal weight. The purpose of this dissertation is to answer the question: in what ways might we consider Surrealist's nonsense a genre. Since Freud, psychoanalysis has been the frame of reference to distinguish the conscious from the unconscious, common sense from nonsense. This dissertation departs from a dichotomous discourse and explores the nonsensical aspect in Robert Desnos' writings and avant-garde films in relation to Jungian's theory and Taoism. Ultimately for Desnos, Jung, Avant-garde filmmakers, and Taoists, action free of preconceived ideas grew to be the aspired mode of being-in-the-world, that which enables us to transcend ourselves.

  • The Movie Men: The Male Body as Spectacle in European Cinema

    Author:
    Giorgio Galbussera
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Mary Ann Caws
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a study of the ways in which several European directors have put the male body at the center of their cinematic vision, potentially reversing the traditional mechanism of filmic objectification of the female body. My analysis traces the display of the male body in a selection of films by Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Derek Jarman, Pedro Almodóvar, and several contemporary French filmmakers. While all of these directors engage in a more or less open voyeurism in the way they offer attractive male bodies to the visual enjoyment of the spectator, highlighting the homoerotic potential of the cinematic gaze, they simultaneously use the exposed bodies to promote a critique of the mechanisms of mainstream narrative cinema, in particular as it relates to masculinity and the construction of gender. As they explore male bodies that are desirable but often fragile, malleable, and open to manipulation, these films contest the construction of masculinity as a normative, solid category, and suggest ways in which cinema can expose, through the display of the male body, the contradictions existing within a socially enforced conception of masculine identity and the system of gender altogether. The `soft' bodies, young and slender, presented to the desiring gaze ideally oppose the `hard' male bodies that are at the center of visual desire in mainstream genres like the action or war film; even as they reclaim an on-screen presence for the articulation of homoerotic desire, often in militant ways, these filmmakers reveal the problematic nature of every act of looking and desiring, exposing its potential for exploitation and controlling manipulation. In an attempt to avoid a mere reversal of roles between the traditionally defined cinematic positions of male activity and female passivity, while these directors eroticize openly their gaze at the male body, they experiment new ways in which the body can be framed and observed without being necessarily and univocally reduced to object of consumption; at times violently, at times more playfully, such visions of the male body promote a dismantling of traditional masculinity.

  • The Movie Men: The Male Body as Spectacle in European Cinema

    Author:
    Giorgio Galbussera
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Mary Ann Caws
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a study of the ways in which several European directors have put the male body at the center of their cinematic vision, potentially reversing the traditional mechanism of filmic objectification of the female body. My analysis traces the display of the male body in a selection of films by Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Derek Jarman, Pedro Almodóvar, and several contemporary French filmmakers. While all of these directors engage in a more or less open voyeurism in the way they offer attractive male bodies to the visual enjoyment of the spectator, highlighting the homoerotic potential of the cinematic gaze, they simultaneously use the exposed bodies to promote a critique of the mechanisms of mainstream narrative cinema, in particular as it relates to masculinity and the construction of gender. As they explore male bodies that are desirable but often fragile, malleable, and open to manipulation, these films contest the construction of masculinity as a normative, solid category, and suggest ways in which cinema can expose, through the display of the male body, the contradictions existing within a socially enforced conception of masculine identity and the system of gender altogether. The `soft' bodies, young and slender, presented to the desiring gaze ideally oppose the `hard' male bodies that are at the center of visual desire in mainstream genres like the action or war film; even as they reclaim an on-screen presence for the articulation of homoerotic desire, often in militant ways, these filmmakers reveal the problematic nature of every act of looking and desiring, exposing its potential for exploitation and controlling manipulation. In an attempt to avoid a mere reversal of roles between the traditionally defined cinematic positions of male activity and female passivity, while these directors eroticize openly their gaze at the male body, they experiment new ways in which the body can be framed and observed without being necessarily and univocally reduced to object of consumption; at times violently, at times more playfully, such visions of the male body promote a dismantling of traditional masculinity.

  • Truth, Lies, and Issues of Authenticity: A Study of Rousseau, Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus

    Author:
    Mary Gennuso
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    This is a study of the lie at the intersection of philosophy and literature, as it applies to Rousseau, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus, especially as embedded in the system of thought of each author. A sub-theme of this investigation is the application of the terms as it applies to gender issues and examples. Thus there is a feminist lens of scrutiny in this study. The logical paradoxes, inconsistencies, and tensions found in each author are uncovered, as well as the strengths of each. The study ends with implciations for future reseaerch.