Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Entrapment and Enchantment: Nympholepsy and the Cult of the Girl Child

    Author:
    Jenny Boully
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    Focusing on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955), Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1886), J. M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy (1911), Henry Darger's The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, and John Ashbery's Girls on the Run (1999), this dissertation investigates how the Victorian cult of the girl child may have its roots in another Victorian interest, ancient Greek culture. While this dissertation adds to the scholarship on literary pedophilia, it makes a distinction between the pedophile and the nympholept. Whereas the pedophile wishes to sexually possess children, the nympholept does not necessarily wish to sexually possess his nymph; rather, the nympholept is moved to create art inspired by his nymph, or girl child. This dissertation introduces the idea of sublimation into art to the discourse of girl children. Just as classical nymphs had to sublimate themselves into landscapes in order to escape their male pursuers, we see how the girl children in this study are sublimated into literary or visual art in order metaphorically to preserve themselves. While forging a connection between the cult of the girl child to nympholepsy, this study also connects nympholepsy to what Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment (1976) calls "enchantment," that is, using fantastical stories in order to navigate certain unknowns, mainly adulthood and death. This dissertation takes this a step further and asserts that nympholepts used enchantment as a means to entrap nymphs. While bringing up the inevitable charge of pedophilia, this project is not interested in the pedophile but in the nympholept and the means through which he sublimates a girl child into visual or literary art. The opening chapter examines Lolita alongside the taxonomy for classical Greek nymphs and explores both the minutia and larger themes in Lolita that relate to this classification. Chapter two examines Carroll's relationship to Alice Liddell in light of nympholepsy and the triangulation of pleasure between Carroll, Alice, and Alice's Adventures Under Ground, which the chapter recognizes as a highly eroticized fetish object. Chapter three studies the subversive sexuality and desires of Wendy Darling while arguing that Peter Pan, instead of being a little boy who refuses to grow up, is a Pan figure. The final chapter discusses how nympholepsy plays out in the art and writings of Darger and Ashbery's nympholepsy. The dissertation concludes with a creative epilogue that explores the theme of "reenchantment" that I discuss in chapter four.

  • Entrapment and Enchantment: Nympholepsy and the Cult of the Girl Child

    Author:
    Jenny Boully
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    Focusing on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (1955), Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures Under Ground (1886), J. M. Barrie's Peter and Wendy (1911), Henry Darger's The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, and John Ashbery's Girls on the Run (1999), this dissertation investigates how the Victorian cult of the girl child may have its roots in another Victorian interest, ancient Greek culture. While this dissertation adds to the scholarship on literary pedophilia, it makes a distinction between the pedophile and the nympholept. Whereas the pedophile wishes to sexually possess children, the nympholept does not necessarily wish to sexually possess his nymph; rather, the nympholept is moved to create art inspired by his nymph, or girl child. This dissertation introduces the idea of sublimation into art to the discourse of girl children. Just as classical nymphs had to sublimate themselves into landscapes in order to escape their male pursuers, we see how the girl children in this study are sublimated into literary or visual art in order metaphorically to preserve themselves. While forging a connection between the cult of the girl child to nympholepsy, this study also connects nympholepsy to what Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment (1976) calls "enchantment," that is, using fantastical stories in order to navigate certain unknowns, mainly adulthood and death. This dissertation takes this a step further and asserts that nympholepts used enchantment as a means to entrap nymphs. While bringing up the inevitable charge of pedophilia, this project is not interested in the pedophile but in the nympholept and the means through which he sublimates a girl child into visual or literary art. The opening chapter examines Lolita alongside the taxonomy for classical Greek nymphs and explores both the minutia and larger themes in Lolita that relate to this classification. Chapter two examines Carroll's relationship to Alice Liddell in light of nympholepsy and the triangulation of pleasure between Carroll, Alice, and Alice's Adventures Under Ground, which the chapter recognizes as a highly eroticized fetish object. Chapter three studies the subversive sexuality and desires of Wendy Darling while arguing that Peter Pan, instead of being a little boy who refuses to grow up, is a Pan figure. The final chapter discusses how nympholepsy plays out in the art and writings of Darger and Ashbery's nympholepsy. The dissertation concludes with a creative epilogue that explores the theme of "reenchantment" that I discuss in chapter four.

  • Courting Utopia: The Romance Plot in Contemporary Utopian Fiction

    Author:
    Katherine Broad
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Carrie Hintz
    Abstract:

    Utopian literature is typically read as a transformative genre that compels readers to rethink the norms and assumptions that govern their worlds. But what kinds of imaginative work does the genre perform with regards to women's status in the ideal society, and how has this work developed--or failed to--in more recent utopian texts? Courting Utopia: The Romance Plot in Contemporary Utopian Fiction focuses on a specific subgenre of utopian literature known as the feminist critical utopia, which emerged in the 1970s out of previous utopian genres and continues to develop today. Despite the genre's aspirations for social change, however, I observe an ongoing refusal to challenge, let alone transform, normative gender roles in feminist critical utopian texts, a limitation that persists because the novels remain wedded to traditional narrative conventions carried over from earlier utopian forms. Ultimately, the genre remains predominantly structured not around the rhetoric of social change, as utopian scholars generally presume, but around the rhetorics of romance. Looking at the work of Marge Piercy, Margaret Atwood, and Ursula K. Le Guin, who have been central to defining the field, as well as recent popular novelists Suzanne Collins and Scott Westerfeld who show where the feminist critical utopia is moving in the twenty-first century, I detail how the romance plot undermines the feminist utopian project by restricting the utopian imagination to traditional gender roles. Identifying romance as a key obstacle to the imagining of more radical forms of social change, I break company with those who see authors like Piercy, Atwood, and Le Guin as the paragons of the genre and instead look to Robert C. O'Brien, Samuel R. Delany, and finally Toni Morrison for alternative narratives that move beyond romance to reimagine feminist critical utopian worlds. The persistence of the romance plot in contemporary feminist critical utopias has been largely overlooked by utopian scholarship, but contending with how this pervasive plotline shapes utopian possibilities stands to offer new insights into the development of more open, oppositional, and liberatory female characters and feminist alternatives to the status quo.

  • War Baby: Race, Nation, and Cultural Conceptions of Lesbian Motherhood

    Author:
    Lisa Brundage
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Jane Marcus
    Abstract:

    The Interwar period was a time of exaggerated social anxieties about gender, race, class, and sexuality. One of the primary vehicles for expressing this agitation was through a pronatalist cultural focus on maternity that posited women as gatekeepers of racial purity, traditional gender roles who perform a specifically patriotic duty--akin to men's military service--through reproduction. Concurrently, thanks to the ubiquity of Radclyffe Hall's image after the obscenity trial for The Well of Loneliness in 1928, the general public in England and the USA had a visual, collective idea of "the lesbian" for the first time. "The lesbian" was in many ways a foil for the idealized, domestic mother, and three novels from this period that are frequently considered classics of lesbian literature all place a heavy, yet currently under-explored, emphasis on the embattled relationship between lesbianism and maternity: Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928), Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show (1936), and Nella Larsen's Passing (1929). Despite her notoriety, Hall's novel places a deeply conservative value in women's reproductive capacity; a driving force in the plot is the female invert Stephen Gordon's need to compel her "normal" lover Mary Llewellyn to heterosexual reproduction--to prevent Mary from using lesbianism as contraception--over Mary's protestation. Warner's novel takes a more politically radical stance, tracing its protagonist Sophia Willoughby's disillusionment with white, aristocratic motherhood, ultimately having her reject not just marriage and maternity, but other forms of kinship in order to focus on her personal and solitary process of political radicalization. Larsen's novel focuses on the domestic and racial entrapment of bourgeois marriage and motherhood. Larsen conjoins the paranoia of racial and sexual passing through metaphors of pregnancy; Clare Kendry's paranoia about producing a black baby is recapitulated in Irene Redfield's anxiety about her attraction to Clare. These themes are reinvigorated and retold in contemporary narratives about lesbian mothers. The final chapter focuses on the lesbian television soap The L Word (2004-2009), which problematically posits the lesbian nuclear family as a locus of social protest and, along with gay military service, a primary conduit for fighting institutionalized homophobia.

  • Conspiratorial Modernism: Modernism and Conspiracy Theory in Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, and Musil

    Author:
    Johannes Burgers
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Marc Dolan
    Abstract:

    This project investigates the concurrent emergence of literary modernism and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in Europe and America between 1894 and 1942. This period, stretching from the Dreyfus Affair to the beginning of the Endlösung (final solution), represents the most significant shifts in anti-Semitic discourse in Europe, and roughly outlines the most important years of modernism. By bringing these two discourses into conversation, this project documents their remarkably similar reactions to modernity's fragmentation and dislocation. Both modernists and conspiracy theorists believed that modernity had fractured an erstwhile total and complete reality. They therefore wrote vast, totalizing works that tried to create a complete worldview. The critical difference was that modernists concluded that such a worldview was no longer possible, while the conspiracy theorists were convinced that they are being thwarted by Jews. In uncovering a previously undocumented history, this study not only reveals the pervasive and multifarious influence of anti-Semitism on literature, but also contributes to a growing body of scholarship on modernism's relationship to other early twentieth century discourses. Methodologically, this thesis is supported through a three-pronged approach that combines history, biography, and aesthetics. First, I construct a historical model that documents the transmission of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in Europe and across the Atlantic. Second, I situate Marcel Proust, James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Robert Musil within this context through their personal biography, especially their contact with anti-Semitism and anti-Semites. Third, I align the aesthetics of conspiracy theory with that of each authors' magnum opus, respectively, A la recherche du temps perdu , Ulysses, the Yoknapatawpha novels, and Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. In its historical approach, this study uses the current transnational approach in Modernism Studies, and applies this model to conspiracy theories. Traditionally, scholars have explained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by situating them within a national discourse. My comparative approach highlights the substantially different antipathies that people had towards Jews in each of the countries studied, while at the same time revealing an extensive transatlantic economy of anti-Semitic ideas. Though often couched in nationalist rhetoric, anti-Semitism's theoretical underpinnings were established through this larger conversation. This discourse of anti-Semitism touched the lives of all these authors in different ways, and shaped how they represented Jewishness in their texts. Through letters, journals, and other often-overlooked biographical material, I uncover biographical connections between each author and anti-Semitism. All the authors demonstrate various levels of sympathy for Jews, while also harboring negative stereotypes. Beyond the historical and biographical overlap, modernism and conspiracy theory share a similar aesthetic. Modernist and conspiracy texts were encyclopedic and omnivorous in their scope. Consequently, the narrative drive of such texts relies on assembling and fashioning the work into a coherent whole. Yet, their sheer overwhelming size continuously resists complete comprehension. Further, at the center of each work is a region of unknowability that ostensibly masks a transcendental truth that, when revealed, will make the world complete again. I conclude that for the modernist the point is that such a transcendental truth no longer exists, and that for the conspiracy theorist this truth is obscured by a vast Jewish conspiracy. Modernism therefore undermines and resists the conspiratorial project by revealing totality as an impossibility. I structure the chapters around specific dates that indicate real and fictional moments of rupture that modernists attempt to reveal and conspiracy theorists try to close.

  • The Vastness of Small Spaces: Self-Portraits of the Artist as a Child Enclosed

    Author:
    Matthew Burgess
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    A tent of bed sheets, a furniture fort, a corner of the closet surrounded by chosen objects--the child finds or fashions these spaces and within them daydreaming begins. What do small spaces signify for the child, and why do scenes of enclosure emerge in autobiographical self-portraits of the artist? Sigmund Freud's theory that the literary vocation can be traced to childhood experiences is at the heart of this project, especially his observation that "the child at play behaves like a writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, re-arranges the things of this world in a new way." Gaston Bachelard's exploration of space and poetic reverie is also foundational, and I situate Freud's "child at play" within Bachelard's spatial topography in order to examine the ways in which enclosures facilitate the discovery and development of the child's creative capacity. The paradoxical relation between smallness and vastness is a central theme in this dissertation; as the child imagines a world of her own within the small space, spatial constraints dissolve or vanish. My first chapters consider representations of childhood space in the work of two British memoirists at midcentury, Virginia Woolf and Denton Welch, and in the third chapter, I analyze lyric self-portraits by three American poets of the postwar period: Frank O'Hara, Anne Sexton, and Robert Duncan. Others have suggested that childhood enclosures are symbolic of "womb" or "cave," but these interpretations fail to capture the complexity of meanings at play within these scenes. I argue that this recurring figure is less about a lost union with the maternal body or some atavistic memory of the beginning of history; rather, for the author tracing the origins of her creative vocation to childhood, the small space is where the artist is born.

  • Exercises in Criticism: The Theory and Practice of Literary Constraint

    Author:
    Louis Bury
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    My dissertation is an exercise in applied poetics, using constraint-based methods in order to write about constraint-based literature. I define constraint-based literature as literature that imposes rules and restrictions upon itself over and above the rules and restrictions (such as grammar and lexicon) inherent in language--as literature that understands itself as part of an avant-garde tradition whose most prominent precursor is the work of the OuLiPo, or "Workshop For Potential Literature," a French writing group, founded in 1960 and still active today, whose purpose is to invent arbitrary constraints for the purposes of generating literary texts. When completed, my dissertation will contain ninety-nine short chapters, each of which follows a different compositional procedure. By tracing the lineage and enduring influence of early Oulipian classics, I argue that contemporary Anglophone writers have, in their adoption of constraint-based methods, transformed such methods from apolitical literary laboratory exercises into a form of cultural critique, whose usage is surprisingly widespread in contemporary Anglophone literature, particularly among poets and experimental novelists.

  • Exercises in Criticism: The Theory and Practice of Literary Constraint

    Author:
    Louis Bury
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Wayne Koestenbaum
    Abstract:

    My dissertation is an exercise in applied poetics, using constraint-based methods in order to write about constraint-based literature. I define constraint-based literature as literature that imposes rules and restrictions upon itself over and above the rules and restrictions (such as grammar and lexicon) inherent in language--as literature that understands itself as part of an avant-garde tradition whose most prominent precursor is the work of the OuLiPo, or "Workshop For Potential Literature," a French writing group, founded in 1960 and still active today, whose purpose is to invent arbitrary constraints for the purposes of generating literary texts. When completed, my dissertation will contain ninety-nine short chapters, each of which follows a different compositional procedure. By tracing the lineage and enduring influence of early Oulipian classics, I argue that contemporary Anglophone writers have, in their adoption of constraint-based methods, transformed such methods from apolitical literary laboratory exercises into a form of cultural critique, whose usage is surprisingly widespread in contemporary Anglophone literature, particularly among poets and experimental novelists.

  • The American Teacher Memoir: From Confessions to the Inspirational True Story

    Author:
    Jessica Cantiello
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Miller
    Abstract:

    Over 225 American teachers have published autobiographies that recount their lives in public school classrooms, but the teacher memoir, as a literary genre, has yet to receive sustained scholarly consideration. Since at least the beginning of the common school movement in the 1830s, a movement that is chronicled by the first teacher memoirist William Alcott in his aptly named Confessions of a School Master (1839), Americans have put enormous faith in the power of schooling to create an educated citizenry that can sustain a functional democracy. Teacher memoirs combine with portrayals by historians, administrators, policymakers, and scientists to assess the success or failure of education, which is often entangled with the perceived success or failure of America itself. I read teacher memoirs in the context of educational policy and literary history to demonstrate how the cultural climate in a given era shaped the way in which teachers narrated their experiences, and, in turn, how the memoirs influenced educational debates. This study raises complex questions about the political efficacy of literary texts, contributes to discussions within autobiography theory of the ethical considerations of life writing, and enriches historical narratives of teaching and learning.

  • Negotiating Individualism: Apologies, Social Contracts, and the Romantic Making of the Self

    Author:
    Charles Carroll
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    English
    Advisor:
    Nancy Yousef
    Abstract:

    Abstract Negotiating Individualism : Apologies, Social Contracts, and the Romantic Making of the Self by Charles Durning Carroll Advisor: Professor Nancy Yousef "Negotiating Individualism : Apologies, Social Contracts, and the Romantic Making of the Self" ar-gues that a central mechanism for the formation of our modern identity is the ritual of the apology. This is because as a speech act the apology always involves a recognition of the notion of contract upon which depends much of what we think of as modern about society. According to the view I advance here our understanding of our sense of individualism is based on a negotiation between the personal language of the apology and those collective ideals embodied in the social contract. I argue that our transition from an ancient world of fixed social position to our contemporary, more fluid view of ourselves depended on a movement from social coercion to collective agreement and from the rule of physical force to that of persuasive language. This social change depended first upon reconceiving of ourselves in imaginary terms as persons of equal power, and second on the construction of narratives that helped model our newly reimagined selves. These narra-tives required the use of a new sort of persuasive language--the literary apology. Literary apologies helped construct our modern self because structurally they were contractual offerings--proposals for negotiation and linguistic agreement. Writers of imaginative literature used such literary apologies to habituate readers to the idea of a social contract and to the political equality and individual rights that the contract inherently assumed. After a conceptual and historical overview in the Introduction, the first chapter takes up Hobbes' Leviathan as that form of the social contract ultimately productive of the modern self. The contract Hobbes establishes requires an individual act of forgiveness as one of the preconditions for the establishment of his social contract. Chapter Two shows how in his Confessions Jean-Jacques Rousseau rewrites the Hobbesian social contract by converting this passive idea of forgiveness into the active form of the apology. Chapter Three, on William Godwin's Caleb Williams, analyses the apology's subsequent evolution from an external in-the-world act, to its literary form. In my final chapter I show how Jane Austen, as an inheritor of the literary apology, is able to use it to bring women into being as politically viable entities.