Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Genetic Revolutionaries: American Socialism, the Russian Revolution, and the Invention of the Radical Immigrant, 1886-1920.

    Author:
    Jesse Schwartz
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the American response to socialist politics in general and the Russian Revolution in particular during the titular period. I argue that Gilded-Age anti-radicalism followed by Progressive-Era anti-communism act as a discursive crucible that irrevocably links the two figures of the radical and the immigrant, manufacturing a forced association between particular ethnicities and specific political forms. While immigrants to the US had long been blamed as carriers of biological contagions, socialism in the late nineteenth century would soon be characterized as a social disease in the American imaginary, one that "naturally" infected lesser minds from Central and Eastern Europe, and could then be transmitted to "native" constitutions that betrayed their own weakness simply by the act of adopting radical views. Through readings of contemporaneous literature from authors such as William Dean Howells, Jack London, and John Reed, as well as analyses of concordant reportage and jurisprudential decisions, this study argues that conceptions of a "politics in the blood" not only offered ballast to harsh anti-immigration policies but also generated a contradictory population of "indigenous foreigners" alongside the immigrants themselves, a "counterpublic" rendered un-American purely for their political views. Aided by post-bellum racial categories, new forms of political representation, unprecedented waves of immigration, and the helixing of legislation with the new sciences of anthropometrics, the frightening figure of this "radical immigrant" would abet an increasingly centralized American government in the transition from a discourse of empire in the late nineteenth century to one of anti-communism in the early twentieth, producing contours of contact that still obtain.

  • In the Butcher Shop of Subjectivity: Autobiographical Works from the Black Liberation Movement, 1970-1987

    Author:
    Ramsey Scott
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    Through an examination of autobiographical works by imprisoned members of the Black Liberation Movement who were targeted by illegal government counterintelligence campaigns, "In the Butcher Shop of Subjectivity" argues for a realignment of the field of contemporary American literature. This realignment must incorporate the massive expansion of the American prison regime, perhaps the most nation's most critical historical development of the past fifty years. In exploring the qualities that the autobiographies examined herein share with developments in the field of critical theory and avant-garde poetry, this study suggests that critiques of the prison regime offered in Black Liberationist works provide crucial analyses otherwise missing from contemporaneous and more well-known works of American writing. In particular, the political claims made by the "language regime" in American letters--language-based schools of critical theory and language-focused movements within experimental American poetry and prose--are examined as prototypes for a culture of ignorance that has aided and abetted the widespread imprisonment of America's most vulnerable citizens.

  • Divided Men: The Masculinity/Marriage Dilemma in the Novels of George Eliot

    Author:
    Danny Sexton
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Anne Humpherys
    Abstract:

    Studies of Victorian masculinities have been primarily concerned with how men defined and were defined within the public sphere. This limited focus has ignored their private and domestic lives, itself an exemplification of the separate sphere theory. This dissertation explores what I called the masculinity/ marriage dilemma, a situation in which men feel that they must choose between a public life and a private one. George Eliot's male characters are divided, feeling themselves pulled in what they perceived as two different routes towards manhood. Related to this predicament are issues of power, particularly between men and women, men and other men, and within men themselves. One of the misconceptions that most of George Eliot's male characters share is that masculinity is fixed and secure. However, she continually challenges this view, demonstrating that ideas of masculinities are always changing and unstable. Her novels, beginning with Adam Bede (1859) and ending with Daniel Deronda (1876), present a new set of external and internal circumstances that force her male characters to reconsider the ways of being a man. While some stubbornly persists on old ways, others emerge as “ new men. ” Regardless of whether these characters succeed or fail, George Eliot reveals that male lives are both intricate and multilayered.

  • Common Sense: The Rise of Narrative in the Age of Self-Evidence

    Author:
    Carrie Shanafelt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Richter
    Abstract:

    This dissertation describes the role that eighteenth-century British popular fiction played in the development of "common sense" rhetoric as an appeal to a normative, imagined community. The transformation of common sense from its classical sense, as an internal faculty that organizes sensory perception into cognition, into a normative rhetorical device occurred across a period of time in which the destabilizing effects of social upheaval during the seventeenth century gave way to the normative pressure of the rise of the public sphere in the form of a burgeoning print culture. Imagined communities of public readers are the inventions of texts that employ a self-reflexive rhetorical strategy of common-sense rhetoric. This strategy offers the reader the satisfaction of belonging to a normative, imagined community of readers through consensus with the moral conclusions drawn from a realistic narrative, which the author insists is already familiar to the "normal" reader from experience. Although this rhetorical strategy first appears in epistemological and moral philosophy of the early eighteenth century, it is greatly impacted by the aesthetic developments of realistic fiction of the mid-eighteenth century, especially in fictional representations of sexual desire and morality. Common Sense: The Rise of Narrative in the Age of Self-Evidence examines the relationships between the philosophical prose of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume and the literary and critical prose of Samuel Johnson, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding. It explores the role of normative imagined communities of readers in sexually explicit literature of the eighteenth century, as well as in critical, religious, and literary responses to these texts. The final chapter analyzes the challenges to epistemologically and morally normative rhetoric raised by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy. Each of these texts demonstrates its author's unique conceptions of the imagined reader, individual subjectivity, and the possibility of establishing epistemological consensus through shared narratives of experience. Rather than attempting to describe the imagined public as containing a subset of actual historical readers, this dissertation explores a variety of rhetorical representations of the imagined reader in eighteenth-century British texts in order to compare experimental uses of narrative in philosophy, fiction, and literary criticism.

  • The Rhetoric of Future Harm: Representations and Figurations of the Child in Contemporary American Discourses of Catastrophe

    Author:
    Rebekah Sheldon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    My objective in this project is to draw attention to the frequency with which the figure of the child appears in representations of catastrophe and to map out the causes and consequences of that association. The Rhetoric of Future Harm is thus a rhetorical and tropological study of the child as a figure in contemporary discourse. In what follows, I will propose that the child-figure condenses fears about the human future. A longstanding figure in American culture, the child in contemporary representations of catastrophe, I contend, captures and contains the energies of change, transforming them into anxious fantasies of harm. In particular, I look at representations and rhetorics that bring the child's economy of meanings to bear on the threatened human future. I argue that the deep and pervasive anxiety about the future of the human discloses the apprehension of complexity. I find in this apprehension the nascent recognition of further futures and new forms for a post-humanity and a post-humanism. The child-figure is thus a deeply ambivalent attempt to harness, capture and control, the movements of the future and the meanings of life-itself. The Rhetoric of Future Harm investigates four intensively invested sites where life-itself takes the face of the child: the rhetoric of urgency employed by popular environmentalism; the individuation of life characteristic of rescue narratives and reproductive futurism; the sacralization of the human world in post-apocalypses, and the cultivation of regimes of meaning in literary theory. The middle two chapters, "Rescue and Reproductive Futurism" and "Redemptive Catastrophes and Metaphysical Materialisms" conduct close studies of single novels, Joanna Russ's feminist SF novel We Who Are About To... (1973) in the second chapter and Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road (2006) in the third. Taken together these chapters represent a sustained investigation of the metaphysics of the child under conditions of ecological threat. The first and last chapters, "Eco-Catastrophe and the Queer Matter of the Future" and "Life Matters Beyond the Child," look at the distributions of the rhetoric of the child in non-fictional discursive domains.

  • Repetition and Remediation in Richard Powers, Shelley Jackson, and Oshii Mamoru

    Author:
    HYEWON SHIN
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    In Remediation (1999), Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin maintain that the novelty of new media results from its simulation of the formal characteristics found in older media. While this concept envisions divergent historical pathways for media, it risks falling into solipsism without drawing clear chronological borders. Moreover, the logical self-reproduction found in the rhetoric of new media is similar to postmodernism's predicament in challenging History and Modernity, which places new media in the broader context of postmodernist interrogations of origin, rupture, and genealogy. If, as with Modernity, new media at its core questions its own foundation as constituted by the opposition of old and new and rupture versus continuity, what is the value of remediation as the foremost theory of new media in conceptualizing Modernity's contradictions and imagining its exterior? Interrogating the assumption of remediation, this dissertation investigates the transformation of one medium through its appropriation of another medium's formal aesthetics, illustrated in Richard Powers's novel Plowing the Dark (2000), Shelley Jackson's hypertext fiction Patchwork Girl (1995), and Oshii Mamoru's digital animation Ghost in the Shell (1995). I argue that these authors' explorations of the representational limits of their chosen medium through remediation give rise to the value of repetition and renewal, differing from the solipsism demonstrated by new media discourse. I also suggest that the "origins" of art forms--novel, hypertext, and animation--can be obscured through their complex relationships with earlier genres and forms. This dissertation examines Powers's juxtaposition of poetry and virtual reality, facilitation of the printed novel's reformation through conjuring a digital environment, and adoption of the unusual second-person singular point of view to induce readers' immersion into the text. My study of Jackson's hypertext rewriting of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) reveals how the original novel's use of the epistolary format prefigures the interactive storytelling in Jackson's work. Finally, I delve into Oshii's use of nonperspectival vision simulating Japanese graphic novel, cinema, and Eastern landscape painting, demonstrating alternative spatiotemporal relations to those of Renaissance optics and perspectival realism.

  • The Paradox of Holocaust Humor: Comedy That Illuminates Tragedy

    Author:
    Alice Solomon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Morris Dickstein
    Abstract:

    Abstract THE PARADOX OF HOLOCAUST HUMOR: COMEDY THAT ILLUMINATES TRAGEDY by Alice M. Solomon Adviser: Professor Morris Dickstein The use of humor in Holocaust art has provoked fervent debate. On one side are those who denounce it in the belief that it misrepresents the event and disrespects its victims. On the other side are those who believe that humor, especially in its darkest form, is uniquely suited to the representation of an event so inherently absurd and terrifying. This dissertation supports the latter position. It begins with an overview of humor theory, citing, among others, Hobbes, Kant, Freud, Bakhtin, and Des Pres. Humor is shown to be both a defense against persecution and a force for resistance and rebellion. The problematic aspects of memory, witnessing, and giving testimony are considered within the context of attempting to reconstruct history. The dissertation goes on to discuss the special nature of Jewish humor, which often focuses on the gap between the ideal of the Jews as a chosen people and the reality of Jewish historical experience. Following this are discussions of specific works--the first among them Kurt Vonnegut's Mother Night. Central to this novel is the kind of moral ambiguity so often present in Holocaust narrative. The protagonist, a self-proclaimed apolitical man, accepts a job spying for the Allies; yet the job involves broadcasting inflammatory anti-Semitic propaganda. In Mother Night Vonnegut addresses the importance of behaving responsibly. The central figure in Leslie Epstein's King of the Jews, based on the head of the Lodz Ghetto Jewish Council, is enveloped in moral ambiguity, as well. Is he an egomaniacal tyrant interested only in self-glorification and in wielding power, or is he himself only a victim, trying to do his best under impossible circumstances? Next to be considered are the works of three Second-Generation authors: Art Spiegelman, Michael Chabon, and Thane Rosenbaum. It is shown that all three use humor, as well as magic, to respond to their Holocaust legacies. The transmission of memory and the phenomenon of secondhand witnessing are examined in this chapter. Finally, the dissertation addresses five film comedies that touch upon the Holocaust in varying degrees: The Great Dictator, To Be or Not to Be, The Producers, Seven Beauties, and Life Is Beautiful. It is shown that each one, through the use of very different types of humor, moved us forward in our ability to confront and contemplate a subject that remains largely incomprehensible.

  • Romantic Embodiments: The Wordsworth-Coleridge Circle and the Aesthetics of Disability

    Author:
    Emily Stanback
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Alan Vardy
    Abstract:

    Romantic Embodiments seeks to put the body back into conversations about Romantic aesthetics. For as long as there have been healers and doctors, there have been those thought to be under their purview-what we now call "the disabled." During the Romantic period, cultural attitudes about disability were productively diverse, as religious, rationalist, and (proto-)normative views of disability met and clashed in the popular imagination. Romantic Embodiments examines texts in a variety of different genres-epic and lyric poetry, essays, medical and scientific tracts, periodicals, letters, notebooks-to demonstrate two critical and interrelated levels on which authors of the Wordsworth-Coleridge circle engage with the aesthetics of disability. The first is that of the non-normative body itself as a participant in aesthetically significant experiences. All of the texts in Romantic Embodiments reflect on what it means to encounter the disabled or to encounter the world as a disabled person, and specifically how disability impacts the aesthetic relations between the human body and the various bodies with which it comes into contact. The second level is a formal and conceptual one, as I examine moments at which texts embody such qualities as irrationality, inarticulacy, decay, disfigurement, fragmentation, and distortion at the level of the word, line, sentence, stanza, and genre. The relationship between disabled bodies and the textual qualities I discuss is not a necessary one, but I discuss characteristics that just as easily may be applied to the human body or work of art, and suggest connections between corporeal and artistic form. Romantic Embodiments consists of three sections-Scientific Bodies, Bodies in Pain, and Embodied Encounters-and focuses on a specific network of authors and thinkers who were directly engaged with one another from the 1790s onwards: John Thelwall, Thomas Beddoes, Humphry Davy, Tom Wedgwood, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb. Because I take on a group of authors that collaborated and communicated extensively, I intend Romantic Embodiments to fill in a critical gap related to the ways that we understand the aesthetics of specific authors and specific texts. But much more so I intend this project to open up important avenues of inquiry into Romantic literature and culture writ large.

  • Good God but You Smart! A Study of Language Legitimacy in Cajun Louisiana

    Author:
    Nichole Stanford
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Rebecca Mlynarczyk
    Abstract:

    Good God but You Smart! is the first dissertation-length examination of the educational/linguistic assimilation of Cajuns, a minority ethnic group in Southwest Louisiana. The Louisiana constitution of 1921 banned Cajun French in schools, bringing the language to near-extinction today. Like other internally colonized groups, such as Mexican Americans and Hawaiian Americans, many Cajuns have been "Americanized" but still speak a mixed English that makes it possible for them to both participate in the U.S. economy and maintain a linguistic cultural identity. This newly emergent Cajun Vernacular English (CVE) has been the subject of much recent linguistics research, but studies show that Cajuns abandon CVE in relation to their attempts at upward mobility. In this study, I ask and seek to answer the question, "Why do upwardly mobile Cajuns comply with the disappearance of CVE?" Similar to Geneva Smitherman's explanation of Black English in Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America, I present CVE to the field of Composition and Rhetoric through the lenses of linguistics, sociolinguistics, history, current pedagogical theories on vernaculars, and cultural memoir. Though I chart pedagogical movements within the field, I use Pierre Bourdieu's theory of the legitimate language to focus on the forces outside classrooms that have compelled Cajuns to self-censor. The first two chapters provide a background for understanding the status of Cajuns at the time of their forced assimilation beginning in 1921. Chapter one examines current stereotypes and representations of Cajuns in U.S. pop culture, and chapter two backs up to explain the British ethnic cleansing of Acadians from present-day Canada and their subsequent class status when they regrouped under the name "Cajuns" in Louisiana. The next two chapters describe pedagogical responses to Cajun languages: chapter three reports from previously unpublished historical archives the physical and psychological punishments that children endured for speaking Cajun French, and chapter four reports new data from my own pedagogical survey of English teachers across four Louisiana colleges to explain and critique the strategy of code switching. Finally, in chapter five I hone in on the hegemonic pressures for Cajuns to self-censor coming from language myths and family normalizing practices.

  • Common Knowledge: The Epistemology of American Realism

    Author:
    Mark Sussman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    John Brenkman
    Abstract:

    My dissertation, Common Knowledge: The Epistemology of American Realism, focuses on realist fiction (primarily the novel) at the end of the nineteenth century. Its motivating claim is that the central descriptive and thematic imperative of realism--to depict life "as it is" rather than in some idealized form--emerged in response to crises in the status of knowledge that resulted from an attempt by writers and readers to come to a common understanding of the relationship between private experience and an increasingly fragmented social world. While William Dean Howells's definition of realism as a form of writing that displays "fidelity to experience and probability of motive" assumes a correspondence between writing and the real, my dissertation argues that realism's primary aesthetic achievement was its response to a pervasive sense of epistemological uncertainty. Accordingly, Common Knowledge engages the tensions embodied in interpenetrating depictions of social conflict and shared knowledge. On one hand, much recent scholarship has been devoted to demonstrating realism's commitment to documenting the intensified class conflict characteristic of the last decade of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, much scholarship has also been dedicated to portraying realism as an articulation of bourgeois gentility that remained largely ignorant of the stakes of such conflicts. In studies of the novels of Howells, Henry James, Harold Frederic, and Charles Chesnutt, I attempt to synthesize those two interpretations of American realism, preferring to read oscillations between social concern and reified class privilege as indications of a fundamental ambivalence about the reliability of social knowledge. Common Knowledge entwines readings of fiction with elaborations on the critical, technological, and aesthetic discourses of epistemological uncertainty that emerge from them, documenting how recognitions of socio-economic, racial, and ontological difference both rely on and throw into question the possibility of a shared knowledge of the world.