Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • The Discourse of Marriage in the French Fabliaux and Chaucer's Shipman's Tale

    Author:
    Patricia Sokolski
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Adviser: Professor Ammiel Alcalay Fabliaux are short comic tales in verse that appeared in twelfth century Northern France. Most often anonymous, they circulated orally before they were compiled in manuscripts. The fabliaux were no longer written in fourteenth century France, but Chaucer used the form in the Canterbury Tales. The fabliaux, situated mostly in the towns of Northern France, Picardy and Flanders where the economic expansion of the twelfth century started, portray the lives of merchants, craftsmen, and rich peasants, members of the emerging bourgeoisie. During this time, the definition of a Christian marriage based on consent, affection, and indissolubility was finalized. The fabliaux address the concerns, anxieties, and identity development of this emerging group of people, as they adapt to a new economy as well as a different understanding of marriage. Studying the fabliaux in the context of their production and applying concepts from conflict and relationship equality theories, makes it possible to evaluate the quality of the fabliaux marriages in the context of the new discourse of the church. The romances of Chrétien de Troyes (Cligès , Yvain and Erec et Enide) and the Lais of Marie France, especially Le Frêne, show how the aristocracy is adapting to the new emphasis on consent and affection. Similarly, the fabliaux offer the emerging bourgeoisie possibilities to rethink marital relationships in the context of the market economy by depicting these unions as exchanges whose ultimate goal is the satisfaction of both parties. This understanding of the fabliau is reinforced in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale , which, using the same form, imagines the internalizing of the mercantile ethos in marital relationships. The texts analyzed here contrast two kinds of fabliaux marriages: the successful partnerships based on consent and affection where the characters learn to accommodate each other's needs versus the ones where one spouse is always dissatisfied. While the marriages based on consent and affection achieve equity, the characters enact traditional roles for husbands and wives. Going further, the Shipman's Tale offers the possibility for equality in marriage as the wife manipulates her husband into agreeing to her terms for repayment of a debt. The merchant and his wife's relationship exemplifies a marital partnership framed by the new understanding of marriage and the values of the market economy, providing a model for the emerging bourgeoisie.

  • FREEDOM TURNED AGAINST ITSELF: STUDIES IN THE LITERATURE OF SUICIDE

    Author:
    Christopher Trogan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Vincent Crapanzano
    Abstract:

    By the late eighteenth century, with the growing emphasis on the self, suicide had become a widespread topic of literary and philosophical debate in Europe. Not since antiquity had references to self-death occurred with such frequency and commanded such serious intellectual attention. Major Enlightenment figures such as Hume, Kant, Mill, Rousseau, and Voltaire contributed to a budding discussion of suicide and personal freedom which led to a variety of literary stances over the next three centuries in the works of Schiller, Goethe, Hölderlin, Ibsen, Camus, and Sartre. Each of these authors approached suicide within the context of various forms of individual freedom - moral, social, spiritual, and existential. This dissertation examines the major philosophical arguments for and against suicide (including those of Hume, Kant, Mill, and Schopenhauer) as well as some of the most significant literary responses to these arguments. While philosophers have tended to treat the issue with absolute decisiveness, the literary responses examined here have handled it with an openness that recognizes the complex and multifaceted nature of the problem. Indeed, these literary stances suggest that the problem of suicide and individual freedom is ultimately irresolvable. The dissertation concludes with a reflection on how suicide is treated today. It argues that there is now relatively little debate, and that one's decision to kill oneself is hardly ever considered within the context of individual freedom. Instead, suicide is treated as a symptom of pathology. While there are certainly legitimate sociological justifications for this, the dissertation suggests that we must be careful not to sideline the complex problems that Schiller, Goethe, Hölderlin, Ibsen, Sartre, and Camus recognized - fundamental problems regarding individual freedom that might not have definitive solutions. To reduce the issue to a seemingly incontestable philosophical argument, or to assume it is merely an indication of pathology, offers artificial closure to a problem that refuses to subside.

  • Reexamining `The Dancer and the Dance': Postmodern Considerations in Contemporary Irish and Italian Literature

    Author:
    Kristina Varade
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Giancarlo Lombardi
    Abstract:

    Adviser: Professor Giancarlo Lombardi This dissertation considers the implications of a global, postmodern culture on the contemporary fiction of both Ireland and Italy and seeks to newly engage two seemingly disparate national literatures in dialogue with one another. While both cultures do share a similar religious background, I argue that comparisons between Irish and Italian contemporary literature instead arise from the pressures of a worldview based upon hyper-globalization and changing social norms. In reinterpreting Yeats's question, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?," I argue that values of wholeness and unity previously found in a modernist discourse are in themselves no longer valid points of argument, and that Yeats's poetry itself demonstrates the symptomatic nature of this perspective; instead, one must now consider the fragments of narration, narrative, and narrative discourse found in 21st century literature in order to create new forms of identification. Furthermore, I seek to provide a more thorough understanding of contemporary literary criticism in this dissertation with respect to the Irish and Italian literature published right before and soon after the turn of the millennium. In doing so, I show that there is a difference in the way that postmodern literature has been understood and/or appropriated by the two national discourses. While Italian postmodern literature demonstrates a generally linear progression of development beginning with Pirandello and continuing through both Pulp and "Cannibali" literary styles in order to arrive at a contemporary global/postmodern discourse which reflects technology, music, consumerism and fragmentation, Irish contemporary literature lacks such a linear tradition of postmodern discourse; this could be attributed, as I argue, to a resistance to deep literary change, as well as to the "weight of tradition" as theorized by such scholars as Joe Cleary. Topics of examination concern postmodern representations of technology, media, alienation, fragmentation, and communicative control in the works of writers such as Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Barry McCrea and Patrick McCabe (Irish) and Niccolò Ammaniti, Aldo Nove and Rossana Campo (Italian). Critical analysis focuses upon Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, which provides the most relevant postmodern analysis of the ways in which literature and society respond to the contemporary global worldview.

  • Writing the Acoustic Self in English Modernism

    Author:
    Zoltan Varga
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    The dissertation maps the different modes employed for the musicalization of fiction in English modernism, mainly focusing on novels by E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, and Virginia Woolf. While music is usually present on the level of structure and characterization in these texts, I claim that even its structural applications are related to characterization and address modernist dilemmas regarding the notions of self and identity. I delineate three modes of musicalization in English modernist fiction-the fugue, absolute music, and Gesamtkunstwerk-and argue that they are interrelated with an emerging modernist critique of the subject. Employing methods of narrative theory, semiotics, and musical semiotics, I aim to show how music, in its paradoxical relationship with representation and language, generates an interference within fictional texts, creating an aporia that allows for an analogy with the constitution of human subjectivity.

  • The Temptation of Symmetry: Hamann, Herder, Kierkegaard, and Henry James

    Author:
    Lori Yamato
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Comparative Literature
    Advisor:
    Joshua Wilner
    Abstract:

    The texts that The Temptation of Symmetry: Hamann, Herder, Kierkegaard and Henry James treats, by J. G. Hamann (Aesthetica in nuce), J. G. Herder (Zerstreute Blaetter), Kierkegaard (Fear and Trembling and Stages on Life's Way), and Henry James (The Sacred Fount), are united by a shared skepticism toward systematic thought and by a quirk of writing that pairs truncated figures of symbolic speech with broken bodies. These preoccupations seem at first to have little relation to each other. But in the works under examination in this project, they coalesce around an emblematic structural trope: symmetry. This study examines how and why symmetry is such a loaded issue in these texts. Symmetry, after all, would seem to be an inherently desirable principle, eternally beautiful and valid across disciplines and centuries, able to unite opposition and create a unified whole out of miscellany and fragmentation. I propose that each of these writers explodes symmetry as a temptation and a false ideal. Symmetry, an inherently structural concept, is suspect as a willful external imposition, but it has the virtue of also being a concept that can be examined as narrative content. That is, these authors seize the spatial design of symmetry (which would normally direct and control a text as a kind of unseen hand), thematize it, and allow the texts to engulf, digest, dissect, and dismember the abstraction. The questioning of symmetry is an explicit core preoccupation in their texts. The peculiar intensity of the interest in symmetry common to the texts in this study lies in the sharp twist that the hallmark combination of syncopated figural language and fragmented physical bodies gives to their rejection of symmetry's urge to completeness. And, while ruined bodily figures and truncated figurative language are individually obvious choices for keeping symmetry at bay&mdashand the term figure creates a deeper-than-merely-homonymic connection between the two&mdashthe interweaving of the two is particularly powerful as it strikes at the level of form and content and forces reader and author alike to confront questions of genre and discipline, word and physical body.