Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Varieties of Ecstatic Autobiography: James Joyce to Jean Genet

    Author:
    Timothy Keane
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Andre Aciman
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines how Modernist autobiographical prose texts centralize ecstasy, the paradoxical experience of being beyond the normal awareness of self and time. Even seminal autobiographers such as Augustine and Rousseau confront problems in self-representation that are themselves rooted in both the limitations of linear time for articulating certain moments in a life and narrative reliance on absolute distinctions between the sentient subject and the world's objects. Alternative modern models on literary subjectivity and perspectives on discontinuous time are distilled from essays by Walter Pater, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, and Walter Benjamin. I integrate these literary interventions with phenomenological theories of subject-object collaboration in sensation and perception and Leo Bersani's theory of reciprocity between the self as an 'aesthetic subject,' and the world. The project then turns to a reexamination of autobiographical projects by James Joyce, Colette, and Jean Genet. Even it in its earliest draft forms, Joyce's novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914) equates the spontaneous linguistic inventions in childhood with a foundational, sense-based form of body-world association that is severely undermined by the civilizing maturation of Stephen Dedalus, a predicament informed by Joyce's interest in cyclical theories about human history. Turning to the work of Colette, I evaluate how her novel about music-hall pantomime and dance, La Vagabonde (1910) and her pictorial and poetic memoir La Naissance du jour (1928) depict ecstatic experience in figurations of silence and solitude, breaking with the representational style around dialogue and sociability most associated with her literary self-portraits. Jean Genet's first and final memoirs Journal du voleur (1947) and Un Captif amoureux (1986), as well as his hybrid fragment essays on perception and the visual and plastic arts exemplify how lived experiences achieve significance only when their latent ecstatic properties are articulated in a nonlinear lyrical form. The dissertation concludes by suggesting how the force of authorial presence and the ecstatic dimensions of experiences are reconciled in the materiality of a highly personalized language, a perspective made paradigmatic by the idiosyncratic style of autobiographer Michel Leiris.

  • DOUBLE-DEALINGS AND DOUBLE MEANINGS: DOUBTING AND KNOWING IN EUROPEAN `ANALYTICAL' FICTION

    Author:
    Adele Kudish
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Andre Aciman
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a survey of what I call "analytical fiction" in nine representative texts: Ovid's Metamorphoses, Boccaccio's Elegy of Madonna Fiammetta, Lyly's Euphues, Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron, Lafayette's Princess of Clèves, Richardson's Clarissa and The History of Sir Charles Grandison, Austen's Persuasion, and Stendhal's Armance. My thesis examines the underlying motifs and narrative temperament of a sub-genre that depicts how narrators and characters dissect, anatomize, and interpret their own thoughts, motivations, and actions in literature written well before the formalization of psychoanalytic theory. Analytical fiction is ultimately about reading; it is concerned with the relationship between knowledge and feeling in characters, and the networks of understanding between authors and readers, between narrators and characters, and between one character and another. The plots of analytical fiction comprise narrators and characters who are constantly faced with false, incomplete, or withheld information, misprision, doubt, and confusion, leading to self-deception, jealousy, and crises of love. Above all, what these works share is a tendency on the part of the narration to keep characters apart, to trap them in a closed, confusing society, and to defer, for as long as possible, any chance of intimacy, finality, or resolution.

  • The Insular Iscariot: Judas in Medieval British and Irish Literary Traditions

    Author:
    Christopher Leydon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    William Coleman
    Abstract:

    Because the betrayal is closely connected to the crucifixion and the resurrection, Judas Iscariot, perhaps the most infamous personage of the New Testament, occupies a privileged place in the Christian imagination. Judas figures prominently in patristic commentaries and exegetics, as well as in a number of extra-canonical texts and traditions from late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and beyond. This project considers the matter of Judas in two apocryphal legends of the later Middle Ages, situating them between canonical and extra-canonical traditions, and focuses on their circulation in British and Irish manuscripts. This original research rests upon a philological foundation, correcting a number of errors in previous scholarship on these texts. The first legend, De ortu Judae, is an Oedipodean biography of Judas that fills in gaps left by the evangelists and uses the 30 silver coins paid to Judas as the basis of an explanation for the betrayal of Jesus. Close comparison of Latin and Middle English texts shows that Jacobus of Voragine's Legenda Aurea is the direct source of the South English Legendary version of the Judas legend, rather than the anonymous Historia Apocrypha as some scholars have suggested. A further conclusion, that the unknown SEL poet was creative and innovative, is supported by annotated translations into modern English prose of the South English Legendary chapters on Judas and Pilate. In the second legend, De gallo redivivo, the miraculous resuscitation of a cooked cock proves to Judas the error of his ways, ultimately providing a motivation for his suicide, as well as making an explicit connection between the sins of Judas's betrayal and Peter's denials of Jesus. This apocryphon also links the 30 silver coins paid to Judas with the 30 silver hoops placed around the rood-tree by King David, centuries before its wood was made into Christ's cross. An examination of the Latin manuscript traditions demonstrates that, despite thematic similarities, De ortu Judae and De gallo redivivo hardly ever circulated together, and that, moreover, they were not integrated into a continuous narrative. Analysis of Judas texts from the Leabhar Breac and several other late medieval Irish manuscripts yields a preliminary conclusion that while De gallo redivivo was attested in the Irish vernacular, De ortu Judae was not well represented in Ireland and may even have been unknown there. Another conclusion that may be drawn from the test case of Judas is that there was always a great deal of interaction between canonical scriptures and apocryphal writings, and, for that matter, between official interpretations and popular traditions.

  • An Algerien Primer: Mouloud Feraoun's Le Fils du pauvre, Translation Commentary

    Author:
    Lucy McNair
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    My 2005 translation of Mouloud Feraoun's Le Fils du pauvre, Menrad, instituteur kabyle, sought to correct an historical error by presenting this Algerian Francophone classic to an American audience for the first time since its publication in 1950. A central figure of the first generation of Algerian intellectuals to compellingly represent in fictional form the internal lives of native people during the era of French colonialism, Feraoun (1917-1962) embodied a moderate, humanist, culturally situated viewpoint that was ultimately sacrificed by all sides to the extremism and violence of decolonization. Choosing to work from the original edition, rather than the edition edited for French audiences on the eve of the Algerian revolution, my translation restores an entire section of the novel and offers a new glimpse of Feraoun's larger literary project. The work presented here is dual in form: As a translation commentary, it seeks to evoke, trace and illuminate the wager of Feraoun's first autobiographical novel from its inception to it troubled reception and its continuing impact. As a translation journey, it offers an evocative meditation on the audacity of any writer to pass from silence to authorship and sketches out in a comparative framework the connections and disconnections between Algeria and America. I argue that we have not translated Feraoun because Feraoun's work mapped a territory whose political boundaries imploded, yet whose human parameters were and remain universal. Today, we have much to gain from listening to the astute, ironic and deeply humane interrogations of this Berber-Muslim voice.

  • Sentenced to Life: Writing the Self in Dostoevsky and James

    Author:
    Evelina Mendelevich
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    André Aciman
    Abstract:

    This thesis is the first full-length study to compare Dostoevsky's and James's mutually illuminating concepts of art and its relation to life. It examines Dostoevsky's and James's artistic and intellectual kinship through the hitherto overlooked structural and thematic parallels between their fiction and criticism. Both authors distinguish between two concepts of reality: the external, objective reality--the raw material of life, infinitely rich and abundant, but ultimately meaningless in its indiscriminate inclusiveness; and what James calls the "transmuted real," reality rendered meaningful through individual perception and experience and reflected in art. When it comes to the inner reality of the self, one finds in the fiction of Dostoevsky and James the same distinction between the "raw" material of interior reality, indeterminate and "unfinalizable," and the meaningful social identity formed in the process of self-actualization--the creative effort of life-writing. Dostoevsky's "White Nights" and James's "The Beast in the Jungle" are examples of failure at life-writing resulting from individual consciousness' disengagement and isolation from external world. Concerned as they are with the inner workings of the psyche, Dostoevsky and James nevertheless stress that a living consciousness is characterised by interaction, i.e. it is always conscious of other consciousnesses. Yet Daisy Miller and Notes from the Underground dramatize the problems inherent in such interaction. Both novellas focus on the discrepancy between the essential indeterminacy of the self and the social and cultural identities through which it is allowed to express itself in a social setting. The freedom to preserve indeterminacy and potentiality is presented in both novellas as the chief law of life, yet indeterminacy is incompatible with communal living. In The Idiot and The Wings of the Dove, Dostoevsky and James present artistic imagination and such forms of literary activity as plotting, scripting, reading and narrating as essential parts of self-scripting strategies of the characters confronted with this predicament. Despite Myshkin's and Milly's failures as heroes, they nevertheless succeed in realizing their artistic potential, embodying art's capacity for reconciling the self's vital impulses for being and for seeing, and therefore for meeting both aesthetic and ethical demands of life.

  • Dante's Transmutation of Classical Friendship

    Author:
    Filippa Modesto
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Paul Oppenheimer
    Abstract:

  • Caught in the Crossfire: A Critical English Translation of the New York City Prison Letters of St. John de Crèvecoeur

    Author:
    Drew Moore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    André Aciman
    Abstract:

    The present study is a critical edition and translation into English of the New York City prison letters of St. John de Crèvecoeur. The letters were first published in French in the 1784 and 1787 editions of Lettres d'un cultivateur américain. Until now, these five autobiographical stories of the author's 1779 incarceration by the British during the American Revolution have been unavailable to English readers. Consisting of a critical introduction, annotated translation, photographs, illustrations, and an appendix, this dissertation fuses the literary with the historical. St. John de Crèvecoeur's suspenseful, impassioned account of the most harrowing experience in his life is amplified by historical research that fleshes out wartime events and the actual lives of his fellow sufferers in the notorious Provost Gaol. The critical introduction identifies themes that course through the prison stories, and indeed much of St. John de Crèvecoeur's work as a whole: the horrors and contingencies of civil war, along with the perils of neutrality and artificiality of allegiances. The introduction then examines the generic properties of the prison letters: they share qualities of the epistolary, sentimental, and captivity narrative. Finally, the stories are placed into historical context, followed by a discussion of the implications of this prison episode in the assessment of St. John de Crèvecoeur's life and work. The letters themselves begin with the "The Generous Daughter," a story of a man whose daughter's efforts to secure his release inspire wonder and admiration in all the inmates. "Anecdote of Sergeant B. A." anatomizes the movements, countenance and behavior of a man about to be executed. "The Ill-Fated Father" is the portrait of a defiant old man whose sons are wantonly murdered. "Circumstances" is principally the author's own story, recounting the torments he suffers, as well as the kindnesses bestowed on him, during his three-month confinement in the Provost. "Last Letter" recreates the suspenseful night on which the author discovers that he will finally be released from prison. Acts of benevolence that defy partisan expectations elicit his wonder as readily as acts of arbitrary vileness.

  • The Rise of the American Culture of Sensationalism: 1620-1860

    Author:
    Alexander Moudrov
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    Much has been written about the unprecedented proliferation of sensationalist literature in the nineteenth century but very little about its origins. Such an oversight leaves our sense of early American literary history incomplete and even distorted by some persistent misconceptions about the concept of sensationalism and its place in American culture. In this dissertation I devise methodical ways of approaching this subject and explain its significance in the formation of American literary conventions. My project expands the scope of recent scholarship on sensationalist literature by examining the two areas which have so far been neglected in American studies: the origins of the American tradition of sensationalism and its place in the transatlantic context. As I demonstrate, the spectacular rise of sensationalist literature in the nineteenth century was not a spontaneous development. It grew out of a long domestic tradition of sensationalist rhetoric that emerged in the colonial period--much earlier than what is commonly perceived as the first significant outbreak of literary sensationalism in the aftermath of the American Revolution. Furthermore, patterns of provocative rhetoric, which also emerged early in the colonial period, formed an enduring rhetorical tradition whose proponents relied on a set of recognizable conventions that made a notable impact on American literary history.

  • Religiously Based Morality in the Theatre of Alexander Ostrovsky

    Author:
    Olga Muratova
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Daniel Gerould
    Abstract:

    Abstract RELIGIOUSLY BASED MORALITY IN THE THEATRE OF OSTROVSKY by Olga Muratova Adviser: Professor Daniel C. Gerould The dissertation offers a new way of interpreting Alexander Ostrovsky's dramas. The Ostrovsky scholarship is systematic, thorough, and well documented, but it may overlook a particular aspect of the playwright's work, that of Christian, and more specifically Russian Orthodox, morality. The dissertation correlates facts of Ostrovsky's biography (some of which were not publicized during the Soviet era), textual content of his dramas, and biblical conceptual language in them with the historical and cultural context of nineteenth-century Russia, revealing religiously based didacticism in the playwright's oeuvre. A coherent explanation of the factors (historical, ethnological, theological, epistemological, and, at least partially, ontological) that shaped Ostrovsky's life views and consequently his writing is offered as a key element of the argument presented. The writer's four metanarratives (guilt vs. shame; sin; money; theatre), which are being singled out as dominant in his dramas, are looked at from the standpoint of his understanding and interpretation of Christian doctrines. Previous research traditionally labeled a number of Ostrovsky's plays atypical for his writing style, thus creating an exclusive approach to the interpretation of the body of his work. However, if Ostrovsky is regarded as a didactic author who embodied within his plays certain attitudes about morality, which were the outgrowths of religion-influenced ethical positions of his time, exclusions become unnecessary and every drama conforms to a unifying pattern. By shedding more light on Ostrovsky's work and grounding it in Russian Orthodoxy, the dissertation demonstrates that while the playwright should be considered a realist in form, the content of his plays renders them moral fables, rooted in the Bible and the teachings of the Russian national church.

  • Blood: A Victorian Idea in the Flesh

    Author:
    Raluca Musat
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Felicia Bonaparte
    Abstract:

    Abstract BLOOD: A VICTORIAN IDEA IN THE FLESH by Raluca Musat Adviser: Professor Felicia Bonaparte Based on a large body of primary works in science, philosophy, political economy and literature, this study argues that in the nineteenth century novel the meaning of "blood" changes from genealogy, as employed in the service of the aristocracy, to capacity for generosity and affection, conceived as able to counteract the godless secularism and money worship haunting the industrialized England of the time. "Good blood" begins to mean possessing these qualities more relevant to the needs of the time. Nevertheless, the old associations with noble genealogy continue to exercise influence imaginatively, through the connection with ancestors reputed to have been exceptional in some way, and in some respects practically, through the wealth and political clout still left the aristocracy. This inherent power is not to be wasted but repurposed by novelists, in an effort to reconcile the two meanings of the term and put the fable of blood behind the qualities required of true leaders. The study establishes the versatility of the word, which denotes, more than just social standing, physiological as well as moral and affective predispositions. This wide adaptability of meaning stems from the duality of blood, its physical concreteness coupled with unusual powers of suggestiveness. In showing that these can be manipulated to give authority to self-serving ideas, novelists dismantle the old prejudices in favor of hereditary titles and coats-of-arms. However, they continue to make use of the metaphoric potential intrinsic to the idea of blood to suggest that all people are bound in a fellowship of mankind and that those who are strong have a duty to help the weak. This spirit of altruism is apt to create a new set of relationships benefitting from associations with blood only in the derivative sense of parental care, brotherly love, and affinities of the heart. The goal is to reconstruct British society on the organic model of a great family, with an aristocracy of talent, and possibly even of birth, at its head, but functioning in a benevolently paternal way. This is not the end of the aristocracy but, rather, an opportunity to justify its privileges anew.