Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Ghostly Language and Liminal Experience: William Blake, Romantic Discourse on the Sublime, and American Punk Sound

    Author:
    Richard Tayson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Alan Vardy
    Abstract:

    Two modes of inquiry compel and gird this study. The first addresses the aesthetic and philosophical question of the Romantics' experimentation with sound and musical valuation. I observe a move away from a privileging of Lockean sight, and the fixed non-negotiable reality that it implies, in favor of a Romantic emphasis on sound, with its ability to incorporate the ineffable and the unknowable. The second line of inquiry concerns William Blake's influence on New York underground culture, first on Allen Ginsberg, and then on punk performer Patti Smith. Via his deployment of an obscure sublime soundscape coupled with dissenting politics, Blake has had an enormous effect, through Ginsberg, on the sonic experimentations of Smith. If a post-Enlightenment move occurred toward a poetics based on sonic possibilities, what Kevin Barry refers to as the "empty sign," I theorize that it began in 1757, the year of both Blake's birth and the first publication of Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. With its six sections on sound, Burke's text is poised at the tipping point of visual delimitation giving way to mysterious audition, and as such may be noted as possibly the earliest marker of the Romantic era. Thus, the aesthetic of the sublime as developed in Burke's Enquiry registers a shift from Lockean empiricism to Romantic irrationality rendered in sound. This shift may be noted in Blake's An Island in the Moon, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Tiriel, and The Four Zoas, which, when observed in the context of phonetic and discursive embodiments of sound, demonstrate an ever more potent sublime soundscape. I include Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgement to further investigate the sonic modulations found in Blake, Ginsberg, and Smith. Subjective universality and the mathematical and dynamical sublime are of notable import in my investigation of the affective component of a listener's aesthetic engagement with voicings, echoes, harmonics, cacophony, and dissonance that allow for interrogation of inchoate, mysterious modes of being not readily accessed by denotative linguistic signs, but discovered in the empty signs of sublime sound.

  • Stimulating Texts: The Politics and Aesthetics of Arousal in Victorian Literature and Culture

    Author:
    Yevgeniya Traps
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    Stimulating Texts: The Politics and Aesthetics of Arousal in Victorian Literature and Culture deals with representations of sexual affect in mid- and late-nineteenth century English literature and culture. In considering this particular aspect of Victorian society, I propose that it would be profitable to go beyond the existing scholarly considerations of desire. Such considerations, I argue, are too broad, failing to account for specific processes by which bodies respond to stimuli. Rather than understand desire as a uniformly useful rubric for approaching sexuality in Victorian texts, I focus on the particular, often peculiar build up to desire, especially the intensely bodily experience of sexual sensation. Stimulating Texts carries out this investigation by reflecting on a number of formalist issues, also making use of psychoanalytic, queer, and reader-response theory. A study of how culture, both in its high and low, its written and visual iterations, becomes a vehicle for the transmission and the policing of sexual affect, this study looks at a number of well-known mid- and late-Victorian works: the sensation novels of Wilkie Collins and M.E. Braddon, Oscar Wilde's Salomé, and Bram Stoker's Dracula. I show that the Victorian construction of sexual arousal is simultaneously a canny bit of marketing to attract readers and an attempt to control how citizens' bodies respond to stimulation. Stimulating Texts explores the processes by which Victorian cultural productions stimulate readers and teach them how to properly channel that arousal. The texts I explore here defy a totalizing picture. Where arousal is presented as a transportive force in the sensation novel, it is also an ambiguous affect, with undertones of sexual and economic violence. In Salomé, arousal is ecstatically transformative but fatal. Wilde's princess defies her society and its stultifying model of desire, but she does not defeat them; instead, she is killed at play's end, crushed by those whose authority her unique passion undermines. And Dracula deploys the tropes of erotica and pornographic materials, even as the novel expresses profound horror at the power of arousal to override social niceties and middle-class respectability. All, however, are intimately concerned with the sexual impulse.

  • Independent Women: Black Women as Consumers in Literature Written from Slavery to the Harlem Renaissance

    Author:
    Tisha Ulmer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    This dissertation explores the role of consumerism in literature written by African-American women between 1861 and 1928. It consists of three chapters. Chapter One examines the birth of consumer culture in America and Benjamin Franklin's emergence as an exemplary American as it relates to the same. In this chapter I posit that Franklin was a model not only for European-Americans but also for African-Americans, as seen in the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs. I argue that as an enslaved black woman, Harriet Jacobs reflected and revised the Franklin model and her revision of this model influenced the black female writers who followed her. Chapter Two is concerned with the emergence of Booker T. Washington as the prime mediator between American consumer culture and newly freed African-Americans. This chapter looks at how two black female writers, Ida B. Wells and Pauline Hopkins, responded to Washington, even as they reconfigured the Jacobs template. The final chapter places Nella Larsen's Quicksand within the context of America's blossoming consumer culture in the twentieth century and I argue that her rewriting of the Jacobs paradigm represents a breakthrough in depictions of black women's financial and relational autonomy.

  • Space & Distance As I Require: The Journals and Prose Fragments of Philip Whalen 1950-1966

    Author:
    Brian Unger
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    Abstract Space & Distance As I Require: The Journals & Prose Fragments of Philip Whalen 1950 - 1966 by Brian Unger Adviser: Professor Ammiel Alcalay Space & Distance As I Require: The Journals & Prose Fragments of Philip Whalen 1950 - 1966 presents the early journals, prose fragments, and a few unpublished poems and essays by San Francisco Renaissance and Beat Generation poet Philip Whalen (1923-2002). This work includes a scholarly apparatus with both general literary and textual introductions, a critical bibliography that reflects my literary-historical concerns, brief section introductions, annotations, and an informal concordance with Whalen's poetry utilizing The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (ed. Rothenberg, 2007) as a reference work. Philip Whalen was an Irish-American writer with roots in small town Oregon, a poet who was, as Kenneth Rextroth once said, as intensely Northwestern in sensibility as the painters Morris Graves and Mark Tobey. Whalen was a poet of complex sources and influences, extraordinarily well-read in Elizabethan and 18th century English literature, in particular the satiric gestures of Sterne, Pope, Johnson, and Swift. During his lifetime Whalen produced a remarkable oeuvre of close to twenty collections of verse, twenty broadsides, two novels, eight or nine works of experimental prose, plus several dozen critical essays, lectures, commentaries, introductions, prefaces, and interviews, an extensive literary correspondence, and forty years of carefully written literary journals, ranging from roughly 1952 to 1992. Like two of his favorite 18th century novelists Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift, Whalen lived the second half of his life as an ordained cleric within a formal religious setting, a "new" religion for the West, Zen Buddhism, a spiritual tradition founded in India at least a thousand years before the birth of Christ. Whalen began his study of buddhism at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, having served in the Army Air Force as a radio repairman during the final years of WWII. At Reed Whalen's interest in Asian culture was encouraged and augmented by his roommate Gary Snyder, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who blazed a circuitous trail around Ezra Pound, bypassing Fascism and Confucianism to forge a link between Zen Buddhism, Northwestern Wobblie unionism, and Marxist economic theory. He and Whalen remained close friends throughout Whalen's life. It was Snyder who probably first taught Whalen how to sit still in the Zen meditation posture, a fundamentally ungraspable, trans-rational, non-discursive, and deconstructive form of introspection that influenced Whalen's writing and played a decisive role in his poetics. Shortly after the landmark Six Gallery poetry reading in San Francisco in October, 1955 Snyder moved to Japan to study Zen, leaving Whalen to fend for himself in an apartment he shared in Berkeley with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The journals show that Whalen was clear but shy about his bisexuality. For a period of time he was deeply involved in a love triangle, or rather a pentangle, with two married people, one of them a man, the other Gary Snyder's wife, the poet Joanne Kyger. He remained in the U.S. during the late fifties and early to mid-1960s, a tumultuous six or seven years during which he was unable to support himself financially, alternatively couch-surfing with friends, habitating a shack in the woods on Mt. Tamalpais, bumming free rooms from friends in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Marin County. He also attempted a `straight' job and career in Newport, Oregon, and lived in San Francisco for over two years with his companion and lover Leslie Thompson. Finally, in February, 1966 - at Snyder's behest - Whalen moved to Japan. He taught English for a regular weekly salary in the ancient capital city of Kyoto, spending his spare time reading, writing, and studying Japanese culture, religion, art, theater, and literature. I am presenting here the poet's `pre-Kyoto' journals and fragments.

  • New York City Built by Words: Representation of Urban Space in New York City Novels, 1900-1945

    Author:
    Yuki Watanabe
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    New York City Built by Words explores the lesser-examined role of the built environment in representing urban spaces in modern New York City novels. This project reevaluates the often overlooked importance of the centrality of urban architecture in the genre by revisiting the "rag-to-riches" stories from the city's period of growth and by focusing on their use of skyscrapers as literary settings. This peculiar centrality is represented as a synthesis of the physical and non-material environment, and its development is traced from the turn of the century to the end of the World War II. The first chapter looks at Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900), a seminal text that establishes New York City as a new American metropolis in comparison to Chicago. It argues that Dreiser depicts New York's urban space as an urbanscape that exists between the ideal and materialistic environment, using tropes such as newspaper, theatre, and restaurants. The second chapter examines F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned (1922), "May Day" (1922), The Great Gatsby (1925), and "My Lost City" (1931). It shows how Fitzgerald establishes a peculiar urban space, dynamic and surreal, thereby Watanabe iv creating the image of a romantic city as a combination of physical and ideal environments throughout his New York novels. The third chapter pairs The Fleischer Brothers' animated feature Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941) with Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead (1943). While the former portrays individuals as dwarfed by the powerful physical and social forces of architecture associated closely with the capitalist culture, the latter depicts an architect's struggle to win over the changing urban space and finally implanting a static, permanent building, thereby defying the traditional representation of New York architecture that showed motion and change as its main features. The final chapter follows the contemporary development of the genre after the 9/11 terrorist attack, namely, by Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers (2004) and Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin (2008). It discusses how the traumatic experience affected views about urban architecture, and attempts to recover from the trauma took place in relation to the representation of skyscrapers.

  • Recollecting Turbulence: Catastrophe and Sacrifice in the History of My Life by Henry Darger

    Author:
    Carl Watson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joshua Wilner
    Abstract:

    This study of "The History of My Life" the 5,086 page autobiographical text by the outsider artist/author Henry Darger, uses non-linear modes of analysis, such as chaos and complexity theory, to explore the meaning of Darger's epic narrative. Beginning with the idea that turbulence, seemingly chaotic, actually comes about as a compensatory restructuring of inadequate or unstable system dynamics, this study goes on to show that, as both influence and effect, turbulence is found at every level of Darger's life and art, both in theme and structure. "My Life" is a prime example: an extended narrative describing a cataclysmic tornado, in which the text itself manifests turbulent properties of the storm it describes. Darger's particular narrative "madness" is, in fact, an attempt to put turbulence into service as an alternative system of meaning, in contrast to failed social and religious systems of which he was the product. Henry Darger's work provides us with the challenge of exploring new ways of finding meaning in narrative. This study uses traditional literary criticism coupled with a pattern analysis of redundancy to explore some of Darger's primary themes.

  • "I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing, Each to Each:" Modernism, Science, Mythology, and Feminist Narratives

    Author:
    Jaime Weida
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    This work presents my vision of modernism, which encompasses science, mythology, and SF (science fiction/speculative fiction). I examine lesser-known writers such as Hope Mirrlees, Nancy Cunard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Katherine Burdekin and argue that they should be inducted into the canon of well-known authors such as T. S. Eliot. As well, I position the feminist narratives of authors such as Hope Mirrlees and H.D. against the patriarchal narratives of authors such as C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot. In the latter portion of this work, I examine how modernism has influenced contemporary literature by Margaret Atwood and Caitlin R. Kiernan and discuss women writers within the SF genre. Finally, I compare Virginia Woolf's modernist masterpiece The Waves with Caitlin R. Kiernan's contemporary masterpiece The Drowning Girl. I contend that Woolf and Kiernan fully unite science and mythology in their respective liberatory feminist narratives. Throughout the course of this work, I use pedagogical theory to propose strategies for bringing these authors and their texts into the classroom and making them relevant for college-level literature students by referring to contemporary popular culture.

  • Genealogies of Abortion: On the Limits of Life and Choice in Modern America

    Author:
    Karen Weingarten
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    Genealogies of Abortion focuses on early twentieth-century fiction and primary sources to construct a genealogy of abortion politics that challenges the current binary of "life" and "choice." The project argues that both choice and rights are implicated in a liberal discourse that emphasizes individual autonomy and responsibility. In connection to this argument, the project demonstrates how the anti-abortion position on "life" assumes an individuated personhood and reinforces what Hannah Arendt identifies as modern society's foundation in the recurring cycles of reproduction, which place more importance on ensuring that accumulation is continuous than on valuing the end product. The project thus critiques the foundations of current abortion discourses in individualism and privacy by contending that the liberal construction of subjectivity presumes an already self-determining and privileged citizen. Additionally, the project shows how abortion discourses are rooted in early twentieth-century attempts to maintain a majority white and Protestant citizenry in the face of significant social changes, such as the end of slavery and the dramatic rise in immigration from Catholic countries. Through tracing the emergence of references to abortion in American fiction, it examines how this new interest in abortion politics coincided with an anxiety about whiteness in the United States and a renewed emphasis on the autonomous liberal citizen. Some of the key texts that concern rhetorics of choice and rights are Anthony Comstock's anti-abortion polemics; F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned, which fictionalizes Comstock's interests; Margaret Sanger's pro-birth-control and anti-abortion writings, particularly in The Birth Control Review; and selected popular novels from the early twentieth century that represent abortion. The second half of the dissertation focuses on the rhetoric of life in abortion politics and examines Edith Wharton's Summer in the context of World War I, William Faulkner's The Wild Palms, and Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition. Through these texts, Genealogies of Abortion questions how abortion came to be framed in its present terms by examining how abortion discourses were circulated through novels, periodicals, law, and public rhetoric in the early twentieth century, and how those conversations lead to our contemporary understanding of abortion rhetoric.

  • "Self-begot, Self-rais'd": Elective Orphanhood in American Novels, 1790-1852

    Author:
    Karen Weiser
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    William Kelly
    Abstract:

    "Self-Begot, Self-Rais'd: Elective Orphanhood in American Novels, 1790-1852" explores the rhetoric of the family as a national poetics across the birth of American Literature in novels from the 1790s to the 1850s. In it I propose that the figure of the orphan, originating in the pamphlet literature of the American Revolution, became a useful and often-used trope in writing of the period. In novels by Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville, as well as two obscure early popular novels about cross-dressing women (one anonymously published, the other by Herman Mann), I examine the various conceptual contexts, such as republicanism and aesthetics, which make the orphan legible as a figure encapsulating the woundedness and possibility of autogenesis. The elective orphan figure provides a new lens for reading a stock figure of sentimental writing, the sentimental orphan. These orphan figures, when viewed as doubles, shed light on the affective dissonance of revolutionary authority. This dissertation extends the work of Julie Ellison and Lori Merish by revealing the feminization of sympathy from enlightenment discourses of masculine fellow feeling.

  • Clue, Code, Conjure: The Epistemology of American Detective Fiction, 1841-1914

    Author:
    Jennifer Weiss
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    This dissertation posits American detective fiction between 1841 and 1914 as a meaningful category and interrogates forms of knowledge used in this genre. The conventional wisdom on detective fiction creates a dichotomy of British and American production, with British detective fiction in a rational style dominating in importance into the 1920s, and American detective fiction dominating in importance with the "hard-boiled" style of the 1930s and '40s (as described by Raymond Chandler). This dissertation argues that American detective fiction is a meaningful category before and beyond the hard-boiled style. Abductive reasoning, a form of logic based on observation, hypothesis, and confirmation, is the characteristic mode of detection in fiction. Abductive reasoning requires the use of background knowledge to draw conclusions. Therefore, cultural context and beliefs become part of the interpretive process. Works by Edgar Allan Poe, Metta Victor, Anna Katharine Green, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg, and Arthur B. Reeve are used in this study to demonstrate the wide variety of knowledge sources considered relevant in this period. The clearest unit of information in detective fiction is the clue: an object or occurrence that provides critical information toward solving the mystery. The detective figure is the master interpreter of clues, with the observational skills, knowledge base, and imagination to identify and interpret information that others do not. The period of 1841 to 1914 saw extensive industrialization, geographic expansion, and racial turmoil in the United States. Forensic science advanced both technically and culturally as part of a larger movement toward scientific management. The transition to scientific thinking as depicted in detective fiction is, however, significantly complicated by continuing reliance on sentimental and sensational elements such as magic, religion, and intuition and on community-based ethics.