Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • The Grammar of Choice: Charles Dickens's Existential Idea of Religion

    Author:
    Hai Na
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Richter
    Abstract:

    This dissertation challenges the received opinion that Charles Dickens's religious thinking is merely sentimental and philanthropic. Instead, I argue that there is in his works a very consistent "existential" sense of religion, especially in his mature novels. To be religious for him does not lie in the adherence to dogma or the study of theological arguments, but in the crucial choices people make every day. In order to illustrate this "existential" sense of religion, I analyze, in the first chapter, relevant works by Kierkegaard, Carlyle, George Eliot, and Dostoevsky, in order to establish the context in which Dickens's religious views can be discussed. In the second chapter I examine him in the context of twentieth-century writers such as Sartre and Camus to underscore Dickens's existential modernity. The central argument of this chapter is that the very possibility for characters to make a choice is rendered difficult by the widespread loss of faith. Two novels deal with this issue in particular: David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities.The third chapter begins by examining the choice of good versus evil, which is shown to be a very complex issue for Dickens, even in his early works. Then I proceed to discuss the implications of this choice and conclude that knowingly to choose evil over good constitutes "sin" for Dickens, as he demonstrates in Dombey and Son.The last chapter focuses on Dickens's last published novel Our Mutual Friend and discusses the possibility of free choice, a religious issue complicated by the implications of Darwinian evolution.

  • Beyond Agency: Women Writing Romance as Political Intervention in the English Revolution

    Author:
    Kathryn Narramore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Carrie Hintz
    Abstract:

    This project examines four sub-aristocratic seventeenth-century women who wrote romance and historical narrative as political interventions during the social upheaval of the English Revolution: Judith Man defends Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, to Parliament in her translation, An Epitome of the history of faire Argenis and Polyarchus (1640), of a French abridgement of John Barclay's Argenis; Suzanne Du Verger advocates for Catholics in her two translations of Jean-Pierre Camus' French romances, Admirable Events (1639) and Diotrephe (1641), as well as in Du Verger's Humble Reflections (1657), a vitriolic response to Margaret Cavendish's The World's Olio (1655); Anne Bradstreet rejects English "romance" for New English history in The Tenth Muse (1650); and Anna Weamys reexamines women's political roles in her royalist yet moderate A Continuation of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1651). In order to reconstruct the political contributions of each author to their varied political causes, I examine the conversations between their texts and paratexts, how their books speak to and for their authors' social positions, their revisions of the uses of romance, and their political subtexts. Each woman belonged to a class that had unusual access to the aristocracy because of their service to noble families, although they themselves had no real claim to titles or were gentry. They adapt the genre of romance, which had been so often used as a discourse of aristocratic display, for their own political purposes, which range from defending Catholicism to revising the Puritan Plymouth Bay Colony's approaches to internal dissent. I argue that these authors sought agency to redress political grievances rather than to achieve authorship. When seen together, these texts constitute a new involvement for sub-aristocratic women in imaginative literature, one that continues after the Restoration.

  • Exquisite Corpses: Fantasies of Necrophilia in Early Modern English Drama

    Author:
    Linda Neiberg
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Mario DiGangi
    Abstract:

    My dissertation examines representations of necrophilia in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. From the 1580s, when London's theatres began to flourish, until their closure by Parliament in 1642, necrophilia was deployed as a dramatic device in a remarkable number of plays. Exquisite Corpses analyzes the relationship between the English Reformation's abolition of the doctrine of Purgatory and obsequies for the dead, and the frequent, often eroticized representations of dead bodies in the commercial theatre. Despite Protestant iconoclasm, "the cult of the cadaver," as Eamon Duffy refers to it, was not readily relinquished and remained indelible in the cultural imagination. My project expands the definition of necrophilia beyond sexual intercourse with corpses, and builds on current uses of the word by early modern scholars to include all eroticism that occurs within the vicinity of death and dead bodies in English Renaissance drama, all eroticism that cannot be understood without considering the role death plays in its formulation. During this same period, human dissections were publically performed more frequently and anatomical discoveries were published for lay as well as professional audiences. Outbreaks of the plague and public executions likewise kept the dead in intimate proximity to the living. I argue that the confluence of religious, anatomical, and punitive discourses contributed significantly to the eroticized depictions of corpses in early modern drama. Central to this study is my observation that the sex/death nexus is about the flesh. As theologians and polemicists argued, lust is born in, expressed through, and ultimately corrupts the flesh; similarly, many discourses concerned with what "dead" meant posited that death was defined by the decay of the flesh. In other words, flesh conjoins the erotic and the thanatotic. Thus, to understand the eroticization of corpses, and the ways in which corpses influenced the shaping of erotic subjectivities, is to better understand how early moderns conceived of eroticism, death, and mortal flesh. To demonstrate my argument, I use a cultural historicist approach underpinned by psychoanalytic and gender theories and analyze plays that illustrate particularly well the conjunctions between sex and death and their relationship to subject formation. My intervention opens promising new models for understanding the reciprocal relationship between death and erotic subjectivity. As the first book-length study on necrophilia in early modern drama, it foregrounds several dramas that interrogate key cultural concerns about intimacies between the living and the dead.

  • "How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?": Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoirs

    Author:
    Tahneer Oksman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is devoted to a cohesive, theoretical exploration of Jewish American women and comics in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Specifically, it argues that the autobiographical works of many Jewish American women cartoonists dynamically and productively encapsulate a new metaphor of Jewish identity as dis-affiliation through the complex and unique language of comics. Contemporary cartoonists who find themselves uncomfortable with conventional notions of what it means to claim and depict Jewishness are reconceptualizing Jewish difference by rebelling against dominant narratives and modes of Jewish representation. At the root of their graphic articulations, the women under examination in this study - including Aline Kominsky Crumb, Vanessa Davis, Miss Lasko-Gross, Lauren Weinstein, Sarah Glidden, and Miriam Libicki - reveal self-identification and self-representation as potentially transgressive acts that both bind people to and disconnect them from real and imagined communities, even as they allow for individualism in the forms of creative agency and choice.

  • "How Shall We Write History?": The Modernist Historiography Of Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford And Rebecca West

    Author:
    Seamus O'Malley
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    This study explores how several British modernists applied the experimental methods of literary modernism to the writing of history and historical novels. In examining the works of Conrad, Ford and West, I pose several questions regarding the relationship of modernism and historiography: why in histories of the historical novel do modernist works get overlooked? What would a modernist work of history look like? Can contemporary historians searching for new forms find models in these writers? In my dissertation I distinguish these three writers from the "High Moderns" in terms of the former's responses to narrative history. Eliot and Pound eschewed narrative as a means of accessing history; Joyce and Yeats employed myth as an organizational principle for their literary shaping of historical events. In contrast, Conrad, Ford and West maintained narrative as the primary vehicle for relating events of the past. Nevertheless, despite their investment in narrative, they wrote histories with the same sense of skepticism and experimentation they brought to their other fiction. I begin with Conrad's Nostromo, which I see as the founding text of modernist historiography. This historical novel self-consciously plays with the ambiguity of the term "history," which can mean both historical referent (events, forces of the past etc.) and historical narrative itself ("a history"). Ford Madox Ford, in his early historical novels, somewhat naively believed that one could capture an historical era with an homologous literary style, but his masterpiece The Good Soldier took him beyond these practices into a more skeptical modernism that dramatized the distance between any textual narrative and the events it describes. While some critics see the novel's narrative circularity as reflecting circular notions of history, I instead read it as expressing Ford's belief in the circularity of historiography itself, the constant need for the retelling of events and the continual return of historians to key moments in time. I then turn to Rebecca West's first novel The Return of the Soldier, which depicts a soldier who has returned from the front with amnesia, to interrogate the role of memory and forgetting in the writing of history. This theme recurs in Parade's End, Ford's wartime tetralogy, which I read as an (unacknowledged) rewriting of West's novel. I conclude with West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which I take to be the prime example of a modernist work of history. This travel tour through the Balkans on the eve of the Second World War reaches back to West's early engagements with literary modernism, as her great work stresses both the radical difficulties of writing history--what she terms "history's impossibility"--with an equally powerful, but more urgent necessity to record the Balkan way of life before the advance of the Nazis. West thus injects an ethical imperative into the modernist project, reminding us of the very human need for histories.

  • SWAMP AESTHETICS: ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERIMENTS BY AMERICAN WOMEN FROM THE NINETEENTH TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

    Author:
    Cecily Parks
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    "Swamp Aesthetics" proposes a theory of the origins of swamp aesthetics in the works of four visionary American women writers--Emily Dickinson, Mary Austin, Gertrude Stein, and Susan Howe--whose non-linear, non-hierarchical texts reflect patterns to be found in that ambiguous and particularly American landscape feature, the swamp. This project delineates new parameters for what constitutes environmental writing from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, and places American women writers at its forefront, arguing that these authors find in the swamp a position from which to re-imagine the relationship between the American mind and the natural world.

  • The power of English and academic literacy: Students' perceptions and theoretical, political, and pedagogical implications. A case study of students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

    Author:
    Andrea Parmegiani
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    Abstract THE POWER OF ENGLISH AND ACADEMIC LITERACY: STUDENTS' PERCEPTIONS AND THEORETICAL, POLITICAL, AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS. A CASE STUDY OF STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU-NATAL By Andrea Parmegiani Adviser: Professor Steven Kruger My dissertation seeks to problematize widespread assumptions about language ownership in the context of post-apartheid South Africa, a country where English proficiency is a precondition for professional employment, political participation, and often, academic success, despite the fact that less than 10% of the population speaks English as a first language. My argument is based on a critical literature review and a case study. Chapter I provides an excursus on the fundamental conceptual tools of analysis (language, power, identity, and discourse) and is followed by a historical overview of how language and identity have been used to define and challenge power relations in South Africa. I discuss the discrepancy between South Africa's language policy and practice and I review the literature produced by theorists who have engaged in a critical discourse about the power of English. I show how the limitations of these theories can be ascribed to the "birthright paradigm," or a set of assumptions about language, power and identity that restrict language ownership to the native speakers of a language. I suggest an alternative model for understanding language ownership built on the assumption that additional languages can be fully appropriated. Chapter II discusses my research methodology, which comprises a questionnaire, ethnographic observations, and in-depth interviews. My research questions look at black South African students' language practices, their attitudes towards language ownership, and towards language policies. Chapter III presents my findings and Chapter IV discusses their epistemological, political, and pedagogical implications. Epistemologically, the assumptions of the birthright paradigm do not do justice to the complex socio-linguistic reality of black South Africans such as the students in my sample, who have taken ownership of English as an additional language in various ways. Politically, the birthright paradigm reifies the linguicist effects of English as a dominant language and the power of English to function as a proxy for race for maintaining inequality. Ironically, the birthright paradigm also impedes the promotion of marginalized indigenous languages. From a pedagogical point of view, questioning the birthright paradigm can help students exercise discursive ownership as they appropriate the dominant language.

  • The power of English and academic literacy: Students' perceptions and theoretical, political, and pedagogical implications. A case study of students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

    Author:
    Andrea Parmegiani
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Steven Kruger
    Abstract:

    Abstract THE POWER OF ENGLISH AND ACADEMIC LITERACY: STUDENTS' PERCEPTIONS AND THEORETICAL, POLITICAL, AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS. A CASE STUDY OF STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF KWAZULU-NATAL By Andrea Parmegiani Adviser: Professor Steven Kruger My dissertation seeks to problematize widespread assumptions about language ownership in the context of post-apartheid South Africa, a country where English proficiency is a precondition for professional employment, political participation, and often, academic success, despite the fact that less than 10% of the population speaks English as a first language. My argument is based on a critical literature review and a case study. Chapter I provides an excursus on the fundamental conceptual tools of analysis (language, power, identity, and discourse) and is followed by a historical overview of how language and identity have been used to define and challenge power relations in South Africa. I discuss the discrepancy between South Africa's language policy and practice and I review the literature produced by theorists who have engaged in a critical discourse about the power of English. I show how the limitations of these theories can be ascribed to the "birthright paradigm," or a set of assumptions about language, power and identity that restrict language ownership to the native speakers of a language. I suggest an alternative model for understanding language ownership built on the assumption that additional languages can be fully appropriated. Chapter II discusses my research methodology, which comprises a questionnaire, ethnographic observations, and in-depth interviews. My research questions look at black South African students' language practices, their attitudes towards language ownership, and towards language policies. Chapter III presents my findings and Chapter IV discusses their epistemological, political, and pedagogical implications. Epistemologically, the assumptions of the birthright paradigm do not do justice to the complex socio-linguistic reality of black South Africans such as the students in my sample, who have taken ownership of English as an additional language in various ways. Politically, the birthright paradigm reifies the linguicist effects of English as a dominant language and the power of English to function as a proxy for race for maintaining inequality. Ironically, the birthright paradigm also impedes the promotion of marginalized indigenous languages. From a pedagogical point of view, questioning the birthright paradigm can help students exercise discursive ownership as they appropriate the dominant language.

  • The Over-Education of the Negro: Academic Novels, Higher Education and the Black Intellectual

    Author:
    Archie Porter
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Robert Reid-Pharr
    Abstract:

    The Over-Education of the Negro: Academic Novels, Higher Education and the Black Intellectual by Archie Lavelle Porter Advisor: Robert Reid-Pharr This dissertation focuses on the academic novel - a literary genre which fictionalizes the lives of students and professors in institutions of higher education. In particular this project focuses on academic novels written by black writers and which address issues in black higher education. This dissertation has two concurrent objectives: 1) to examine the academic novel as a particular genre of literature, and to highlight some specific novels on black American identity within this genre, and 2) to illustrate the pedagogical value of academic fiction. Through the ancient practice of storytelling, academic novels link the travails of the individual student or professor to a bigger story about the history and origin and purpose of colleges and universities. The "Introduction" provides a basic overview of the academic novel, the black academic novel, and an analysis of the history of black higher education through discourses of over-education. Chapter One, "Toward a Theory of the Black Academic Novel," provides a literature review of criticism on academic fiction and makes connections with black literary criticism in order to create a framework for reading black academic novels. This chapter also includes a historical survey of black academic fiction leading up to the three novels in the following chapters, which were written after the 1980s, and which are framed by discussions of culture wars and capitalism. Chapter Two, "Culture Warriors" is an examination of Ishmael Reed's Japanese by Spring (1993) in the context of the "culture wars" and the development of multiculturalism in higher education. Chapter Three, "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong," examines Percival Everett's Erasure (2001) and the politics of authenticity in black literary and cultural production. Chapter Four, "Homo Academicus" is an interpretation of Samuel R. Delany's The Mad Man (1994:2002) as an academic novel, showing how the novel articulates a queer black intellectual practice as a challenge to discourses of respectability, particularly during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The Conclusion speculates on the future, and possible obsolescence, of the novel (including the black academic novel) as a literary form, and the role of black intellectuals in the digital humanities.

  • Sympathetic Ink: Memoirs of Family Secrets

    Author:
    Molly Pulda
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    Derived from the Latin secernere, meaning "to separate, divide off," secrecy comprises a process of drawing relational distinctions -- a spectrum of communicative strategies to connect and separate. What secret keepers guard is not just the hidden content of a story, but its boundaries: where the private and the public intersect. This dissertation links family secrets in autobiography to contemporary political and cultural contexts, including the ethics of state secrecy, the relational stakes of genetic research, and shifting identity discourse in families, communities, and nations. It centers on the structuring effects of secrecy, for a secret's effects depend more upon its form -- how it is concealed and revealed -- than its content. I suggest that identity is comprised of what we don't know as much as what we know, and what we can't or won't tell about our loved ones as much as what we reveal. And secrecy is a form of communication that calibrates intimacy and distance in families and communities - including communities of readers. Readers are drawn into a narrative of family secrets by what I term its "mechanics of disclosure": the formal and relational strategies through which a memoirist reveals secrets. This study tracks the textual properties of secrecy through comparisons of memoirs by eight contemporary writers: Susan Cheever, Linda Gray Sexton, Bliss Broyard, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alison Bechdel, J. R. Ackerley, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Richard Rodriguez. Studying how families keep and share secrets sheds light on how other institutions consolidate power through practices of selective knowledge, secrecy, and disclosure. Just as a second generation can inherit a family secret -- through the hereditary properties of nescience, or unknown knowledge -- secrets can also be passed down from governments to citizens. Attention to the mechanics of revelation in autobiography provides a formal language to interpret how state secrets are concealed and revealed. A currency of power in any institution, secrets delineate a spectrum of control over not just information, but structures of communication. It is the craft of disclosure that makes secrets legible, and that paves the way for public acknowledgment of open secrets.