Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Aesthetic Autobiography and The Poetics of Despair in Post-War American Literature

    Author:
    David Bahr
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    This dissertation repositions "aesthetic" in its ancient Greek context, meaning to apprehend by the senses. The project is framed around my idea of the aesthetic autobiography, a creative work that phenomenologically conveys the embodied experience of its author. I do not use "aesthetic" as a transcendentalist term of critical assessment, as defined by Kant; instead, the term denotes the immanent realm of the senses. This move allows me to connect the aesthetic to affect, whose etymology I trace from the mid 18th Century to contemporary affect theory. I theorize the aesthetic as a dynamic and relational biophysical force. I aim to extend the boundaries of autobiographical "truth" in order to accommodate the feeling body, which exists in excess and often beyond the reach of conceptual language. Specifically, I examine how five post-war authors formally confront the challenge of conveying the sensation of depression. By focusing on formal experiments in rhythm, syntax, structure, imagery, and genre, I look at texts by Allen Ginsberg, Joan Didion, Tim O'Brien, Art Spiegelman, and Darryl Cunningham. Grounding the project in mid-twentieth century America, chapter 1 begins with Edmund Wilson's "The Wound and the Bow" (1941), which situates the psychologically wounded artist as a vital and connective social force. In chapters 2 and 3, I juxtapose the respective approaches of Ginsberg and Didion in articulating the physiological experience of a depressive breakdown. Chapter 4 focuses on The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien, as a self-consciously constructed aesthetic autobiography: I show how "postmodernism" responds to representing the sensational body after the "death of the subject" and I argue for its affective possibilities. Finally, in chapter 5, I turn to graphic memoir, with Art Spiegelman's "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" and Darryl Cunningham's Psychiatric Tales: 11 Graphic Narratives of Mental Illness. I explore the formal strategies available to cartoonists in conveying the bodily affect of despair

  • Reclaiming Space: Buildings in Modernist Literature and Film

    Author:
    Sreenjaya Banerjee
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nico Israel
    Abstract:

    This dissertation argues that modernists like Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and Alain Resnais construct literary and filmic works that rely on interruptions and elliptical narration to gesture towards an aesthetics of modernity that counters the interest in monoliths concurrently shown by architectural modernism. This is particularly evident in the context of the war memorial, where regimented public memory is countered by the artistic works discussed through their emphasis on private memorials that are changeable, contingent, and mutable. This is a fundamentally altered vision of twentieth century modernity than that embraced by the architectural mode.

  • Counterfeiting in American Literature

    Author:
    Todd Barosky
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    David Reynolds
    Abstract:

    This dissertation provides an analysis of representations of counterfeiting in American literature across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One of the oldest crimes in America and until the Civil War one of the most prevalent, counterfeiting appealed to the literary imagination not merely because it was so common, but because, as a fundamentally ambiguous activity, it seemed to expose significant fault lines in American life. The ambiguity of counterfeiting arose from the fact that its performance, and especially its successful performance, explicitly challenged the stability of the concepts, such as monetary value and sovereign authority, that were necessary to define it as a crime. Counterfeiting thus probed the shifting and often permeable boundaries between what was considered legitimate and illegitimate, legal and illegal, moral and immoral, natural and artificial, valuable and valueless, real and imaginary. The subject of counterfeiting became for a diverse group of American writers, from Benjamin Franklin, Stephen Burroughs and Charles Brockden Brown in the eighteenth century, to John Neal, George Lippard, and Herman Melville in the nineteenth century, a lens through which social and political analysis could be brought into focus, and a fertile source of philosophical speculation and literary creation. Once it was figured as a literary subject, counterfeiting also had a profound impact on the texture and development of American literature across this period. Most obviously, attempts to represent counterfeiting and counterfeiters gave rise to new experiences, new characters, new settings, and new vernaculars. Less obviously, the ambiguity of counterfeiting was such that it exerted pressure on the traditional literary forms, such as the picaresque narrative and the gothic novel, which were deployed in an effort to make it meaningful. What is more, sustained reflection upon the meaning of counterfeiting often led American writers to doubt the possibility of truthful or meaningful representation as such. "Counterfeiting in American Literature" thus seeks to demonstrate that the subject of counterfeiting exists in American literature as a site of literary creativity and cultural tension, a site where older literary forms are recast to fit new circumstances, and where different ideas are inaugurated and tested.

  • Neverending Stories: Unauthorized Continuations, Fictional Realities, and the Long-Form Narrative from 1590 - 2011

    Author:
    Balaka Basu
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Carrie Hintz
    Abstract:

    In reader-response theory, the open text demands that its readers collaborate in its construction. Such participation requires that these readers invest in the text's narrative universe, an investment made more possible when a fiction exhibits the properties of selvage: a firm, detailed, and consistent framework shot through with unfinished edges (termed fractures) that invite and support the reader's response in the form of continuation. These unauthorized extensions literally transform active reading into writing, while their presence recursively solidifies the fictional universe's imaginary space, further buttressing its autonomous existence. Such narrative reinforcement troubles many critics because an independent fictional reality not owned solely by a primary creator has disruptive implications for textual properties and copyrights. Nevertheless, these unauthorized continuations are the tangible artifacts of invested, pleasurable, and embodied reading, a type of reading and pleasure that is itself a revelatory form of literary criticism. Classifying texts in terms of their readers' desire to enter into and extend the narrative world encourages an understanding of these texts as evolving objects that must be categorized and described not just statically, but also dynamically, in terms of their capacity to generate. Three distinct (though occasionally intersecting) kinds of source-texts are identified here; the first locates the source's imaginary space as a narrative of place, the second as a narrative of society, character, and people, and the third as a narrative of interstices. Narratives of place such as Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia evoke fantasies of exploration and colonization; narratives of society like Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice call forth fantasies of unveiling; and narratives of interstices such as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, as well as various long-running television programs, endorse fantasies of dimensionality and dialogue. An examination of these fantasies of continuation from 1590 to 2011 reveals a cyclical pattern in the reception of derivations and continuations. After the Romantic privileging of originality in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the postmodern conception of creativity once more begins to resemble the more collaborative vision of the early modern period, a perspective which produces a queer, non-normative, multiplicitous, and post-canonical understanding of literature and fiction.

  • Pedagogies of Happiness: What and How Self-Help, Positive Psychology, and Positive Education Teach about Well-Being

    Author:
    Jill Belli
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Carrie Hintz
    Abstract:

    Pedagogies of Happiness: What and How Self-Help, Positive Psychology, and Positive Education Teach about Well-Being introduces humanities scholars to the rapidly expanding discipline of positive psychology, and argues that literary scholars, cultural theorists, rhetoricians, and educators must learn about and play a role in shaping the important political and social consequences of positive psychology's research on subjective well-being. The project first explores key rhetorical sites of the self-help genre and positive psychology discipline, and parses their pedagogy, potentiality, promises, and problems. While these movements claim to benefit not only individuals but also society, they are based on a number of unacknowledged--and often overlapping--values that suggest otherwise: they are individualistic, instrumentalized, decontextualized, non-dialogic, non-reflexive, politically conservative, and remedial. Therefore, self-help and positive psychology's versions of happiness, well-being, and flourishing preserve and serve the status quo. After highlighting these problems, Pedagogies of Happiness explores how research into subjective well-being is used to effect crucial policy decisions that affect teaching as well as student learning conditions. The second half of the project presents current efforts to create educational curricula that teach and institutionalize well-being and complicates the assumptions, values, and goals behind so-called "positive education." The final chapter synthesizes the project's various critiques by tracing how self-help and positive psychology rhetoric and pedagogy merge powerfully in a specific positive education initiative: Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF), a mandatory United States Army program for building resiliency, psychological fitness, and well-being in soldiers. Drawing on composition and rhetoric, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and utopian theory, Pedagogies of Happiness concludes by sketching pedagogical alternatives to positive education's contradictory and conservative curricula, and inserts a utopian critique, arguing that future discussions need to consider not only individual resiliency but also social justice.

  • The Thief of Paradise: Milton and Seventh-day Adventism

    Author:
    Ian Bickford
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    This dissertation has two protagonists. One is John Milton. The other is Ellen Gould White, prophetess of Seventh-day Adventism and among the most overlooked, by ratio to her scope and impact, of American nineteenth-century theological writers. Their relationship, White's to Milton, Milton's to White, is not untroubled. It includes moments of uncertainty, of evasion, of occasional deception, moments when the record of their rapport disappears and threatens not to reappear. Yet the curve of this relationship, because broken, indicates something not only of Milton's surfacing in America but, to adopt a term from Henry James, the "abysses" from which he surfaces - and into which at times he recedes. I will demonstrate that Seventh-day Adventism comprises not only one of the most extensive absorptions of Milton into American religious, political, and literary life, but also one of the most important - which is to say, White's encounter with Milton instantiated more than a garden-variety literary appropriation, but an appropriation with ripples, ripples amplifying to waves. If we are to believe Carlos Martyn's suggestion in the first American book-length biography of Milton that "it may, in some sense, be said that religious and political America sprang from Milton's brain," we must then understand White's prophetic writings to be a crucial platform for the acrobatics of that event. The platform is ever more crucial, moreover, as Adventism continues to expand in membership at an enormous rate and as that expansion acquires an international emphasis: America, having sprung from Milton, then springs a distinctively American version of Milton into a global milieu. I hope to describe why White's Miltonic appropriation matters, hence to open within Milton studies as well as American studies an expansive new field of application and significance for Milton's avowed ambition that "I might perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die."

  • The Thief of Paradise: Milton and Seventh-day Adventism

    Author:
    Ian Bickford
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    This dissertation has two protagonists. One is John Milton. The other is Ellen Gould White, prophetess of Seventh-day Adventism and among the most overlooked, by ratio to her scope and impact, of American nineteenth-century theological writers. Their relationship, White's to Milton, Milton's to White, is not untroubled. It includes moments of uncertainty, of evasion, of occasional deception, moments when the record of their rapport disappears and threatens not to reappear. Yet the curve of this relationship, because broken, indicates something not only of Milton's surfacing in America but, to adopt a term from Henry James, the "abysses" from which he surfaces - and into which at times he recedes. I will demonstrate that Seventh-day Adventism comprises not only one of the most extensive absorptions of Milton into American religious, political, and literary life, but also one of the most important - which is to say, White's encounter with Milton instantiated more than a garden-variety literary appropriation, but an appropriation with ripples, ripples amplifying to waves. If we are to believe Carlos Martyn's suggestion in the first American book-length biography of Milton that "it may, in some sense, be said that religious and political America sprang from Milton's brain," we must then understand White's prophetic writings to be a crucial platform for the acrobatics of that event. The platform is ever more crucial, moreover, as Adventism continues to expand in membership at an enormous rate and as that expansion acquires an international emphasis: America, having sprung from Milton, then springs a distinctively American version of Milton into a global milieu. I hope to describe why White's Miltonic appropriation matters, hence to open within Milton studies as well as American studies an expansive new field of application and significance for Milton's avowed ambition that "I might perhaps leave something so written to aftertimes, as they should not willingly let it die."

  • Pilgrimages to the Past: Place, Memory, and Return in Contemporary Life Writing

    Author:
    Marta Bladek
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    Pilgrimages to the Past draws from recent scholarship on autobiography, memory, and trauma, while attending to the historical and ethnic specificities of each text. Extending beyond an inquiry into how autobiographical narratives evoke place and how they present the interplay between location and remembering, my dissertation aims to show that the autobiographical impulse, or the desire to tell one's life story, is intimately bound with specific locations that inspire and facilitate remembering. Return lends the past new urgency and propels its narrative reconstruction. An important concept in this project is the dialogic dimension of the homonym routes/roots, which Susan Stanford Friedman sees as integral to processes of identity formation in an age of increased mobility. This analysis of the recuperative potentialities and reparative limits of return seeks to explore place as identity's foundational and transformational site. Going back affirms the returnees' connection to places from the past; at the same time, return changes how they perceive and inhabit their location in the present. Although returns are retrospectively oriented, they propel a prospective engagement with the past that both acknowledges its relevance and accepts its irretrievability. Insofar as visiting places of ancestral or personal significance ultimately leads to an incorporative separation from the past, Pilgrimages to the Past posits that journeys of return are, in fact, journeys of departure that result in the returnee's turn towards present and future. The diasporic quest for origins organizes Eva Hoffman's After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust (2004) and Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (2006). In Running in the Family (1982) and My Brother (1997), Michael Ondaatje and Jamaica Kincaid, two writers of the postcolonial experience now living in North America, play on "the return of the native" theme as they describe visits to their home islands, Sri Lanka and Antigua, respectively. The predicament of exilic homecoming, in turn, is the key theme in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (2003). Revisits to places of personal significance, rather than to a place of origin, give narrative shape to Susan J. Brison's Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self (2002), Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), and Alix Kates Shulman's To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed (2008).

  • Pilgrimages to the Past: Place, Memory, and Return in Contemporary Life Writing

    Author:
    Marta Bladek
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    Pilgrimages to the Past draws from recent scholarship on autobiography, memory, and trauma, while attending to the historical and ethnic specificities of each text. Extending beyond an inquiry into how autobiographical narratives evoke place and how they present the interplay between location and remembering, my dissertation aims to show that the autobiographical impulse, or the desire to tell one's life story, is intimately bound with specific locations that inspire and facilitate remembering. Return lends the past new urgency and propels its narrative reconstruction. An important concept in this project is the dialogic dimension of the homonym routes/roots, which Susan Stanford Friedman sees as integral to processes of identity formation in an age of increased mobility. This analysis of the recuperative potentialities and reparative limits of return seeks to explore place as identity's foundational and transformational site. Going back affirms the returnees' connection to places from the past; at the same time, return changes how they perceive and inhabit their location in the present. Although returns are retrospectively oriented, they propel a prospective engagement with the past that both acknowledges its relevance and accepts its irretrievability. Insofar as visiting places of ancestral or personal significance ultimately leads to an incorporative separation from the past, Pilgrimages to the Past posits that journeys of return are, in fact, journeys of departure that result in the returnee's turn towards present and future. The diasporic quest for origins organizes Eva Hoffman's After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust (2004) and Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (2006). In Running in the Family (1982) and My Brother (1997), Michael Ondaatje and Jamaica Kincaid, two writers of the postcolonial experience now living in North America, play on "the return of the native" theme as they describe visits to their home islands, Sri Lanka and Antigua, respectively. The predicament of exilic homecoming, in turn, is the key theme in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (2003). Revisits to places of personal significance, rather than to a place of origin, give narrative shape to Susan J. Brison's Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self (2002), Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), and Alix Kates Shulman's To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed (2008).

  • A Chant of Dilation: Walt Whitman, Phrenology, and the Language of the Mind

    Author:
    Anton Borst
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Joan Richardson
    Abstract:

    A Chant of Dilation analyzes Walt Whitman's poetic engagement with two very modern ideas: the materiality of the mind and the discursive nature of science. During the antebellum period these ideas found expression in the popular science of phrenology, the theory that the mind was divided into various faculties physically located in different parts of the brain. This theory would find a ready audience in Whitman, a poet preoccupied with the body, the soul, and their connection. The writings and publications of premier American phrenologists Orson and Lorenzo Fowler, surveyed in this project, rhetorically mediated emerging conceptions of the brain-embodied self by exploring the relationship between religion and materialism. Phrenology also provided Whitman and its many followers with an empowering sense of self-knowledge based on its rich vocabulary of dozens of mental faculties. At the same time, by equating mind and brain and claiming the existence of innate, inheritable faculties, phrenology raised the possibility of biological determinism, unsettling seemingly essential beliefs in the soul, agency, and moral responsibility. In Whitman's correspondingly complex deployments of phrenological terms and themes, the poet embraces, confronts, and answers the implications of a material mind through the means most readily available to him as a poet: metaphor, ambiguity, and the performative use of language. By situating Whitman's response to phrenology alongside a number of Romantic and post-Romantic intellectuals similarly occupied by its language, including Georg Friedrich Hegel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and William James, I demonstrate its hitherto overlooked cultural significance as a discourse that prompted philosophical concerns about the relationship between science, language, and the mind.