Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • "As Long As She Cracks She Holds": Thoreau's Anticipation of Dying

    Author:
    Audrey Raden
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is the first full-length study to address Thoreau's ideas about death and dying. Death, for Thoreau, was an unnatural state, while dying was part of the cyclical course of nature. As he moves through nature's slow time, Thoreau is able to anticipate dying. Thoreau's transcendentalist use of time makes anticipating the seasons, and all changes in nature, a form of prophecy in the traditional sense, in that while the prophet is speaking, what he is prophesying is already happening in the eternal present. Anticipation itself becomes a form of prophecy, and ultimately what is anticipated is dying. In this sense, Thoreau is always prophysying dying while he experiences the living cycles of nature.

  • Skin Game: The Confidence Man and Nineteenth-Century American Literature

    Author:
    Margaret Robertson
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    In the century and a half that has passed since the publication of Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man, the text has come to be regarded as the quintessential novel on the subject of confidence men and confidence games in mid-nineteenth-century America. Melville's confidence man, however, scarcely resembles the readily recognizable, fast-talking white flimflammer that twentieth- and twenty-first century readers have come to expect. By turns black or white, rich or poor, verbose or mute, greedy or charitable, Melville's confidence man -- indeed, the true confidence man of the nineteenth century -- proves a far more diverse and interesting subject. In this dissertation I argue that, for the most part, antebellum Americans did not make the same distinctions as modern scholars between white and black confidence men, but rather recognized them as players of the same game, a "skin game" in which actual skin had an important role to play. Evidence for this claim abounds: we find it in the discourse of the pseudosciences of phrenology and physiognomy, in the works of Melville and William Wells Brown, in the writings of proslavery novelists and public letters of abolitionists, and in the works of freemen and women, former slaves, and their descendants. These writers and thinkers were fascinated by the twin problems of race and confidence in equal measure, and were, moreover, inclined to equate these two problems with one another, a fact that has gone largely unexamined in literary scholarship. This dissertation strives to recover that lost connection and restore the confidence man to his rightful place at the heart of American racial discourse.

  • "WHEN WE WAS BOYS": tHE AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHY OF A SOUTH BRONX TEEN PROGRAM

    Author:
    John Rodriguez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Amiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    This dissertation concerns itself with the experiences of a six-year long poetry class at a South Bronx community center's teen program. In it I will be interweaving our writings, my teaching beliefs, South Bronx history, teenage code--dress and speech as well as poetry-specific written/performed code, and my own particular historical narrative as poet/scholar in comparison to my students' in an attempt to decipher and represent access, or lack thereof, to poet/scholar identity. This is my attempt, actually, to analyze what it means and what it takes to define oneself as a poet for young Bronx minority public school students. This will serve to exemplify the role poetics (can) play in developing and expanding the critical consciousness proponents of composition and education believe formal schooling promotes when even a cursory look at racial and ethnic backgrounds of college graduates and high school dropouts obviously proves how rarely minority students survive formal education and how infrequently they take up a place in the halls of the academy's ivory tower.

  • "WHEN WE WAS BOYS": tHE AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHY OF A SOUTH BRONX TEEN PROGRAM

    Author:
    John Rodriguez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Amiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    This dissertation concerns itself with the experiences of a six-year long poetry class at a South Bronx community center's teen program. In it I will be interweaving our writings, my teaching beliefs, South Bronx history, teenage code--dress and speech as well as poetry-specific written/performed code, and my own particular historical narrative as poet/scholar in comparison to my students' in an attempt to decipher and represent access, or lack thereof, to poet/scholar identity. This is my attempt, actually, to analyze what it means and what it takes to define oneself as a poet for young Bronx minority public school students. This will serve to exemplify the role poetics (can) play in developing and expanding the critical consciousness proponents of composition and education believe formal schooling promotes when even a cursory look at racial and ethnic backgrounds of college graduates and high school dropouts obviously proves how rarely minority students survive formal education and how infrequently they take up a place in the halls of the academy's ivory tower.

  • Provisional Fictions: Discontinuous Selves and the Making of Meaning

    Author:
    Tara Roeder
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Meena Alexander
    Abstract:

    My project is an exploration of trauma-based meaning-making practices and reader response across a variety of sites. By teasing out some of the complex connections among trauma, narrative, and audience that may occur in spaces ranging from non-linear memoir to courtroom testimony to the writing classroom, I engage with the inherently dialogic nature of making meaning from trauma, and examine some of the ways in which women who engage in recursive, embodied rhetorical practices can productively disrupt conventional expectations of the function of trauma narratives. Chapter One examines the formal, linguistic, and philosophical choices made by women memoirists who challenge the parameters of traditional narrative structure in order to forge their own paths through contested issues of history, memory, and the body. Chapter Two focuses on the public discourses surrounding stories of sexual assault, using reader response theory to explore the possibilities available to witnesses who wish to resist the ways in which the rhetoric of the courtroom can circumscribe responses to sexual assault narratives in multiple forms, from memoir to testimony to mainstream media coverage. Chapter Three explores the interpretive possibilities for readers of trauma based narrative offered by non-oedipal psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi, who meaningfully revised Freud's analytic approach to trauma victims by stressing the need for empathy and active witnessing on behalf of the analyst. Chapter Four delves into the realm of pedagogy, seeking to demonstrate through the use of narrative practice some of the ways in which assignment design and modes of response can aid in facilitating ethical and empathetic pedagogical interactions that may resonate both in and beyond the composition classroom. I am ultimately invested in illuminating the role that both genre and the body have in the construction of non-linear trauma narratives, as well as the role community plays in re-thinking the linear reading practices often privileged in response to such narratives in light of the work of innovative writers and theorists who challenge such practices in their own projects.

  • Embodied Politics: Crowds in Late Nineteenth American Fiction

    Author:
    Justin Rogers-Cooper
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I examine descriptions and representations of politically excited crowds in selected nineteenth century American fiction from the Civil War to the turn of the century. I argue that these depictions of crowds provide new opportunities for addressing theoretical concerns about collective agency and political action in contemporary accounts of Marxist informed literary scholarship. In particular, the dissertation turns to the political and ethical philosophies of Benedict de Spinoza to emphasize the importance of thinking collective agency through embodied politics. With Spinoza's concept of affect in mind, I assert that we can best understand the collective cognition of crowd behavior in the selected fiction by reframing our interpretative strategies toward theories that develop models of bodily intelligence. To this end, the dissertation offers a new genealogy for the study of crowds that primarily attends to the fiction of Martin R. Delany, Charles Chesnutt, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Frank Norris. It it also introduces new theoretical perspectives through intensive readings of texts on group psychology, animal behavior, religious ecstasy, financial crisis, and social emotions. I imagine here a radical ambiguity about the potential for crowd behavior to become a sovereign force for collective action, but I contend that crowd sovereignty is powerful because assemblages of bodies have the capacity to act in the name of life and death through excited expressions of synchronized gestures and symbolic production.

  • Embodied Politics: Crowds in Late Nineteenth American Fiction

    Author:
    Justin Rogers-Cooper
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Peter Hitchcock
    Abstract:

    In this dissertation I examine descriptions and representations of politically excited crowds in selected nineteenth century American fiction from the Civil War to the turn of the century. I argue that these depictions of crowds provide new opportunities for addressing theoretical concerns about collective agency and political action in contemporary accounts of Marxist informed literary scholarship. In particular, the dissertation turns to the political and ethical philosophies of Benedict de Spinoza to emphasize the importance of thinking collective agency through embodied politics. With Spinoza's concept of affect in mind, I assert that we can best understand the collective cognition of crowd behavior in the selected fiction by reframing our interpretative strategies toward theories that develop models of bodily intelligence. To this end, the dissertation offers a new genealogy for the study of crowds that primarily attends to the fiction of Martin R. Delany, Charles Chesnutt, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Frank Norris. It it also introduces new theoretical perspectives through intensive readings of texts on group psychology, animal behavior, religious ecstasy, financial crisis, and social emotions. I imagine here a radical ambiguity about the potential for crowd behavior to become a sovereign force for collective action, but I contend that crowd sovereignty is powerful because assemblages of bodies have the capacity to act in the name of life and death through excited expressions of synchronized gestures and symbolic production.

  • Modeling the Feminine: The Princess Story in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film

    Author:
    Sarah Rothschild
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Anne Humpherys
    Abstract:

    The fictional princess has long been a model for emulation and explication, and this was no different in and immediately following the twentieth century in America. In a princess story, the protagonist either is a princess or is attempting to become one: the girl transforms into or identifies herself as a princess through marriage or through discovered identity, or both. Princess lessons often accompany this transformation, lessons which not only educate the fictional girl but also the reader. This dissertation seeks to define the "princess story" as a means through which cultural expectations about female roles are transmitted, linking the stories' changes to the three waves of feminism. The princess story reflects and reinforces these changing meanings of being female in America. Secondly, this dissertation seeks to use the princess story to examine the dialogic nature of feminism and patriarchy. These are embodied by first, second and third wave feminist princess stories on the one hand and by Disney Studio's princess stories on the other. Furthermore, consumers and creators of princess stories are influenced both by them and by the society around them. Traditional princess stories were consumed by the girls who became second-wave feminists; as the girls matured, they rewrote the princess stories in ways that reflected their ideological goals. The most recent princess stories tensely balance romance and feminist assumptions. Chapter One, "A Little Princess: A First-Wave Feminist Girl," examines Frances Hodgson Burnett as a first wave feminist and the ways Sara Crewe embodies Burnett's feminist beliefs. Chapter Two, "Disney's First Princess Stories," explores the ways Disney's first three princess stories, promulgate a retrogressive view. Chapter Three, "Second-Wave Feminism and Ideologically Intent Princess Stories," argues that second-wave feminists used princess stories to influence their audience, and it explores some of the reasons these stories are not widely read today. Chapter Four, "Disney's `Feminist' Princess Stories," revisits Disney, analyzing the anti-feminist positions in the studio's most recent princess stories. Finally, Chapter Five, "The Third-Wave Princess Story: A Redefinition" explores the current state of the princess story in young adult novels as well as in contemporaneous Disney adaptations.

  • Modeling the Feminine: The Princess Story in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film

    Author:
    Sarah Rothschild
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Anne Humpherys
    Abstract:

    The fictional princess has long been a model for emulation and explication, and this was no different in and immediately following the twentieth century in America. In a princess story, the protagonist either is a princess or is attempting to become one: the girl transforms into or identifies herself as a princess through marriage or through discovered identity, or both. Princess lessons often accompany this transformation, lessons which not only educate the fictional girl but also the reader. This dissertation seeks to define the "princess story" as a means through which cultural expectations about female roles are transmitted, linking the stories' changes to the three waves of feminism. The princess story reflects and reinforces these changing meanings of being female in America. Secondly, this dissertation seeks to use the princess story to examine the dialogic nature of feminism and patriarchy. These are embodied by first, second and third wave feminist princess stories on the one hand and by Disney Studio's princess stories on the other. Furthermore, consumers and creators of princess stories are influenced both by them and by the society around them. Traditional princess stories were consumed by the girls who became second-wave feminists; as the girls matured, they rewrote the princess stories in ways that reflected their ideological goals. The most recent princess stories tensely balance romance and feminist assumptions. Chapter One, "A Little Princess: A First-Wave Feminist Girl," examines Frances Hodgson Burnett as a first wave feminist and the ways Sara Crewe embodies Burnett's feminist beliefs. Chapter Two, "Disney's First Princess Stories," explores the ways Disney's first three princess stories, promulgate a retrogressive view. Chapter Three, "Second-Wave Feminism and Ideologically Intent Princess Stories," argues that second-wave feminists used princess stories to influence their audience, and it explores some of the reasons these stories are not widely read today. Chapter Four, "Disney's `Feminist' Princess Stories," revisits Disney, analyzing the anti-feminist positions in the studio's most recent princess stories. Finally, Chapter Five, "The Third-Wave Princess Story: A Redefinition" explores the current state of the princess story in young adult novels as well as in contemporaneous Disney adaptations.

  • "YOU CAN TRANSCEND THIS STUPID bad girl REALITY": A Study of Hannah Weiner's "Clair-Style"

    Author:
    Jennifer Russo
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Ammiel Alcalay
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a study of the poetics of Hannah Weiner, a postmodern American experimental poet who hallucinated words. She believed that these words, though debilitating, life-altering interruptions, were clairvoyantly received directions and commentary from unseen guiding spirits. Weiner created her "clair-style" poetics to record her experience as she struggled to regain control of her life and decipher the instructions for healing, transcendence, and literary success that she believed were locked in the words she saw. I argue that her mission of documenting her life is not mere transcription, but a sophisticated engagement with her disability/gift and reflection on the role of the reader. Her personal agency is diluted, but Weiner trades authority for what she wants more: poetry that leads to enlightenment by facilitating her quest. This dissertation serves as a reading guide or companion to Weiner's difficult poetry and its use of techniques including polyphony, fragmentation, overlapping type, and raw, diaristic revelations. I situate her inside a larger history of poets and the metaphysical, and explore Weiner's connections to the art communities of New York City's Lower East Side from the 1960s until her death in 1997. I examine her early works, unpublished journals, and manuscripts, tracking her predilection for the linguistic and visual codes that become pivotal in her major work, Clairvoyant Journal. In my study of Clairvoyant Journal, I unravel messages about authorship and dictation and their connection to Weiner's life. I survey her critical reception and address key but uncomfortable questions about her clairvoyance or illness and the reader's conception of it. I probe Weiner's work of the 1980s, in which she turns her focus outward and uses her poetics for political purposes, taking up the cause of the American Indian Movement, claiming to channel the voices of its leaders. I also investigate Weiner's troubled but productive identification with Indians and her own shamanistic roll. I trace, or create, a trajectory that elucidates clair-style's origins and how Weiner arrived at this radical form for her art. This work is a study of Weiner's compromised consciousness, and her process of making art from a difficult experience.